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Copyright for Artists

Page history last edited by Mrs. Train 4 years, 7 months ago

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Please refer to the unit called Artists Steal - Collage and Appropriation Unit  for more information.

PowerPoint: Artists Steal.pptx

Check out: Copyright-free Images



  • Appropriation – in visual arts, it can also mean to recontextualize - to borrow, recycle or sample aspects of or the entire form of an object.
    Intertextuality is a type of appropriation.
    MORE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appropriation_(art) 
  • Inspiration – Process of being mentally stimulated to do something, especially a creative act. 
  • Parody – An imitation of the style of an artist with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect. 
  • Satire – Use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule. 
  • Intertextuality – Referencing other work – art, literature, film, and using it as the basis for a new work of art. You can also include references within your own pieces. This adds significance to the meaning behind a work based on your previous knowledge and understanding of those works. 
  • Remix – pieces of art (or other works) are mixed together to form a new creation. 
  • Copyright - a law that protects the creator's ownership of and control over the work he or she creates. It requires other people to get the creator's permission before they copy, share or perform the work. NOTE: Assume that any work you find on the internet has automatic copyright. Somebody created it and is entitled to credit. 
  • Plagiarism - The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own, or neglecting to give credit to the creator. 
  • Creative Commons - A kind of copyright that indicates how a work can be shared, copied and adapted. Usually requires credit to the original creator. 
  • Public Domain - A creative work that is no longer protected by copyright (usually due to age, or as specified by creator).  There are exceptions based on the type of work, who owns it and if it was published. Some old material is copyright by museums or the family of the creator.


  • Fair Dealing - The ability to use small amounts of someone's creative work without permission, but only in certain ways.  
  1. The purpose of the proposed copying, including whether it is for:
     research, private study, education, satire, parody, criticism, review or news reporting;
  2. The character of the proposed copying, including whether it involves single or multiple copies, and whether the copy is destroyed after it is used for its specific intended purpose;
  3. The amount of the dealing from the individual user’s perspective, including the proportion of the Work that is proposed to be copied and the importance of that excerpt in relation to the whole Work; 
  4. Alternatives to copying the Work, including whether there is a non-copyrighted equivalent available;
  5. The nature of the Work, including whether it is published or unpublished; and whether it is confidential.


Why Art gets Copied from the Internet

Visual artists have specific copyright challenges due to the nature of their work. Most people copy images without bothering to give attribution. Have you ever tried to track down the original source of a picture on Pinterest? Or a meme? The very nature of the internet - the ability to quickly copy and paste a photo - makes it too easy to ignore sources. When you copy text, it's accepted and fairly easier to include the name of an author, or the link to a website. When you save a photo, unless you rename it with the details, they are lost.


Copyright Laws are Complicated

Another aspect of this discussion is the 'fair use' or 'fair dealing' of imagery. While the laws provide usage guidelines such as for parody, there are limits, and work must be altered in a way that implies a specific message. Current art often mines popular culture, beginning with Andy Warhol's silk-screened copies of photos and everyday objects. But even Warhol ended up having to reimburse photographers and there have been plenty of high-profile cases where artists were charged, for example, Shepard Fairey and Jeff Koons


There's an interesting case study with background information, here:



Guidelines for Students


  • Include your own, personal experiences and impressions in your work
  • Borrow aspects of an image and make it y our own (significantly alter it)
  • Use ideas you see that inspire your own work (colour schemes, style)
  • Ask if you're not sure - during the planning stages!



  • Copy blatantly from a photo or image you find on the internet or other media.
  • Make at least 3 significant changes to your art, such as different media, changing backgrounds,, etc
  • Use a copyright character such as anyone from Disney, Winnie the Pooh, Marvel comics, etc.
    * if you are doing fan fiction, you may be able to use the character in a storyboard or illustration.
  • Use trademark logos or symbols such as the Nike swoop, sports team logos, store logos, etc.


From tshirhell.com


Information for Practicing Artists

What I recommend for anyone wanting to put something on the internet is to either:

  • Use a low-resolution photo so that the quality isn't great, and people will be less inclined to copy it
  • Add a watermark - your name, your website link, to each photo. If anyone really wants to steal work, it will take effort to edit it out.


If you are giving a workshop, consider having a signed agreement clarifying that your designs (if being used) are not to be sold or entered into competitions. I've taking courses where I've had to sign these kinds of agreements.


Note on Fanfiction

"Legally classifying fanfiction as a derivative work grants fans who write fanfiction the right to do so, as long as their work abides by the copyright laws of the original work and does not breach the doctrine of fair use (allows authors to use verbatim quotes from a work without the need for permission)."  https://reporter.rit.edu/views/fanfiction-legal-battle-creativity  If you plan to write and publish fan fiction, you MUST read up on the laws. Authors have been sued. Even so, judges will vary in interpretation. Some will rule in an author's favour, others will see work as being transformative and providing social benefit. Some authors enjoy the work of fans - J.K. Rowlings, for example.  




Ethics in Graphic Design - http://www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org/ is very informative for students, artists and teachers.

The Curve: Visual plagiarism: when does inspiration become imitation? http://www.epuk.org/the-curve/visual-plagiarism 



Can I Use That Image? (Infographic guide to legal & ethical use of others' images and artworks)


Appropriation Vs. Copying - http://hyperallergic.com/62026/when-is-appropriation-just-copying/

How to Be Inspired Without Copying - http://seanwes.com/tv/043-how-to-be-inspired-without-copying/



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