Through my memberships in various mosaic groups and bead mosaic groups I have seen much discussion about copyright and licensing of images. If you base your artwork off another’s image/work/style when do you need to acknowledge this fact? It is often a heated discussion with many viewpoints on the issue, and much ignorance too about copyright law and how it pertains to art and artists.
When I started I would look at all these lovely photos on the internet. I loved the pose of the bird, the angle of the beak, the lighting, the detail. I wanted to draw them. However I was always unsure of how much of the photo was under copyright. Some people quote this magic percentage, others say that the drawing they would create would look nothing like the original because they don’t draw that well. However, for me I felt uncomfortable as that photo was someone else’s work and I wanted to know when I could legitimately use that photo and when I could not.
I started researching copyright law using what I found on the internet. Remarkably the information I came across was very consistent. (There might be opposing views out there but I did not find them). Basically they said copying any part of the photo/artwork, even if just an outline was a questionable act, unless you had received the artist’s permission or license for its use. They also pointed out how easy it was to trace a derivative back to the original. I would agree. There are so many artwork images online and as I researched I knew exactly which photo/artwork/artist’s style they had come from, even if changes were made.
I also learnt things I had not known. Photos/artwork published in reference books and magazines were also under license. Those books and magazines paid for the rights to use those images, and thus we have to too.
So how do you get the images you want to use as the base of a piece of work? Create it yourself from the source – draw the tiger at the Zoo! Take a photo of the subject you want to use. (You then own the licensing rights and are free to do with it as you choose). Or, if getting to the Atacama desert in Chile to get that perfect shot is beyond you right now, the next step is to either pay for the licensing rights to the photo, obtain written permission from the artist themselves or look for a database that provides photos/artwork that is in the public domain. I.e.it is outside of copyright, or the artist has released it without the copyright attached so that others can use it for their own benefit as they see fit.
The Blue Jay in my latest piece, pictured at the start of this blog is a licensed image. I purchased a license to use the image from iStock by Getty Images. This gives me the ability to use it for personal, commercial and business use unless otherwise restricted by the terms of the license. The only part of the licensed image I ended up using was the bird and the branch. However, if you search for Blue Jays on Google you will quickly spot the photo I used. The piece I have created is now also a copyrighted image. So one could argue that if you copy my piece you would have to pay me a licensing fee to use the parts that are original to myself and a licensing fee for the parts that are original to the photo. As you see, based on my limited understanding of this area, and it is limited, copyright can get complicated!
This and the Red Cardinal are the only pieces I will create using a licensed image done by others. Going forward I either will be provided the image (for commission work) or I will be using my own creations. I gain much pleasure now from exploring my own house and backyard with a camera and looking at old photos. I also find that it helps my artistic vision and my photography as I am looking at the camera through the artist’s lens. It will also make my future works more personal as I photograph items and subjects that grab my attention.
To me the Blue Jay is personal because of when I created it, not how it was created. The Blue Jay started as an exercise in backgrounds. I wanted to see if I could use a busy background in a neutral color that would not overpower the bird. It is an important piece to me as it connects old life with new life. I began it when my first dog’s health was deteriorating rapidly. I continued it while I grieved his passing and then finished it up after the arrival of our newest family member: a small little rescue dog from Egypt. So when I see this piece I remember two special animals in my life and the love they brought/bring to it.
If in reading this blog you find my understanding or interpretation of copyright simplistic please feel free to comment below. I know I and others who read this blog would love to learn more.
Until next time…!