Cathleen Lengyel > Scribbles > Artist Help > I’m not a thief… am I?

I’m not a thief… am I?

Image courtesy of ElisaRiva on Pixabay
  Are you a thief?  Maybe.   Today, let’s take a look at what you might be doing that is considered stealing. It’s a common mistake that many beginning artists make.  Yet, claiming you “didn’t know” isn’t going to get you out of hot water.  What am I talking about?  The big “C” word… Copyright. It’s fairly common that when an artist (particularly a new artist) seeks inspiration they turn to places like google searches, Instagram and Pinterest.  They come across an amazing photo that speaks to them and they decide to draw, paint or create some sort of artwork from this incredible photo.  Reference photos have been an important tool for artists since, well, photographs were invented.  The advent of the internet has made it even easier to find photos of all sorts of places, animals, people, celebrities… anything you could ever want.
You found your inspiration, you download the photo and begin to create.  You have just committed copyright infringement.
Yes, read that again and let it sink in, if you download a picture and create art based on that picture without permission, you have indeed committed copyright infringement.  It’s not only unethical, but it can also land you in a whole heap of trouble if you post your finished work or sell it.   Photographers both professional and non-professional are artists.  They work hard to get the “perfect shot.”  The result of their hard work, those beautiful inspiring photographs are protected by copyright laws.  The photographer owns the copyright to their photos, period.  If you use their work without permission you could find yourself in a great deal of legal trouble. Now you’re saying to me, “I didn’t copy the entire photo, I only used a certain part and then changed the background or changed subtle elements, that’s ok then isn’t it?” Nope. Many people think if they change a few things here or there they somehow make it their own and are no longer bound by the copyright of the photographer.  Let’s be honest.  If you found a photo you want to use as a reference, it’s the main subject you’re using.  No matter how you change the background, the lighting, whatever, you are still deriving work from the main subject.  That main subject is the reason behind the photographer taking the picture, it belongs to them. “What if I give credit to the photographer when I sign my creation?” That’s great!  IF you have the photographer’s permission to use the photo in the first place!   Do you see a pattern here?  ASK PERMISSION. If you find an incredible picture to use for a reference, you need to ask the photographer for permission to use it.  You might be surprised how nice many photographers are in regards to allowing their photos to be used when creating artwork.   If they give permission they will undoubtedly have terms to which you must abide.  Everything from a simple acknowledgement crediting them as the photographer, a link to their website or whatever they determine is best.  It’s up to them and if you want to use that photo, then you must abide by their rules.  It’s the right thing to do! Is there any other way to get a reference photo without tracking down photographers? The answer is YES. There are many places an artist can get free or paid reference photos.  Here’s just a few to get you started:




Another good way to stay clear of copyright violations is to take your own reference photos.  It’s not only a good way to get exactly what you want, but it can be incredibly fun!  Who knows, maybe you could even sell prints of your photos, or offer your own free reference photos to other artists! Until next time, Keep Creating!  
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