Copyright infringement in use of Images

As an artist working with images from references, how do you approach utilizing internet found content and incorporating them into your own artistic creations? We took a look at various mediums including collage and photorealistic paintings. The answer is not always as simple as running the images through software and accumulating similar content through a database.

At what point does an image belong to an individual or organization?

An obvious and most common conclusion would be that if an artist creates a piece of work based on another, chances are they are not doing anything to violate copyright images. That is assuming the piece of work referenced a generic photograph or used generic themes. For example, a painting of the Eiffel Tower on a sunny day from a generic angle taken by numerous photographers would probably set you in the realm of free artistic expression.

However, if artist number one, who is in the question of copyright infringement takes a reference from artist number 2, who is the original creator of the referenced work, obviously copied their unique style with direct imitation and knowingly did so, there might be a problem. If you believe that your artwork might cross the boundaries of unlawful imitation, you might consider asking the original artist for their permission to let you use their image. This makes you free from breaking the law, simply by asking for written permission.

So where does that take us in regards to actually breaking the law on copyright, and how similar is too similar?

In the United States of America the law takes into consideration something called “fair use”. If the artwork is in question for example the court will look to several guidelines to determine whether the law has been broken. When you have the time and the use of images are important to you in your own work, research the term and be absolutely sure you are not infringing on somebody else’s work.

Another notable fact in the USA is that parody or satire fall outside the realm of infringement due to the fact that it exists as commentary or criticism of the original artwork.

It is important to understand that copyright laws vary from country to country. There is no such thing as protecting your image internationally.

In the end, be mindful of the purpose of your work. Consider the similarities that arise with referencing existing work, and when in doubt be sure to contact the original artist and just ask for permission to utilize their piece. Artists work very hard for each and every single one of their creations, and there is nothing more demeaning than having somebody else take credit where credit is not due. 

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