Apr 17, 2012

The big "C" word again!

Sharon Teal Coray

Recently I had an artist inquire about a piece of artwork that was on this magazine. She was concerned that it was a copy of another artist she knew. I try to have artists that only paint original art but I really have no control over the fact that someone may be copying others artwork. I was upset at first because I am a big advocate of the copyrights of artists and if I ever found a copy on my magazine I would remove it immediately.

However, analyzing the two pieces I found they were quite different and when the artist who was supposedly copied said it was not a copy of her work I was very relieved but  decided that I wanted to re-visit what copyrights involve and remind all artists that we do have laws about this sort of thing!
Because our artwork is so very personal we get very protective of it. It is like our children, it is part of us and believe me we know a copy when we see it! Even if the copier only takes a few things from us and uses them we see them. Don't ever be fooled into thinking that we don't.
If you want to see an artist with steam coming out of their ears, just point out someone who has “copied” their work and claimed it as their own.

The real question in “why do people copy?”

I can think of many reasons why one would do this, For new artists they may be doing it to learn how to paint, it may be done out of pure ignorance, greed for financial gain and finally simply because they are incapable of coming up with their own ideas.

If you are just learning to paint, imitating the paintings of your favorite artist can help you to develop better techniques and to gain inspiration. If your plan is for only learning and not for selling then there’s no ethical issue by doing this.

Exceptional art is very desirable. It can bring in lots of money so it is no wonder that there are people out there who feed off the artist who has made it, thus copies their work for their own financial gain.
Now here is something I want to make clear, because this is something that gets mixed up a lot. There is a big difference between having your art and style influenced by another’s work and out-and-out copying another’s work and selling it, without permission.
So how can we as artists tell if someone has been influenced by us or have just blatantly copied our work?

Lets say that you want to paint a gorilla, you don’t live where they live so you can’t easily get photos of them. You find a photo of one and you contact the owner and he gives you permission to paint it. OK, now you have the permission to paint it, remember that you just have the "permission" to paint it, you do not own the copyrights to it unless the author gives of sells you the rights. So what that means is that anyone can contact the photographer and get permission to paint it unless he has sold or given his copyright to you. So you may see a lot of copies of this photograph painted that looks just like yours and you cannot do one thing about it.
So the advise here is to ALWAYS buy the copyright from the photographer so you can copyright your painting. Then he can no longer sell it to anyone else.
OK so lets say you have taken this step, then you see a copy of your work!
 Whoa...now here your copyright has been infringed upon.
What to do?
 I have seen many up-close gorilla portraits. Some look very similar, but a Gorilla is a Gorilla so how can one tell if this one is a copy of yours?
Trace over the one that is suspect using tracing paper, then lay it on top of your drawing or painting, does it line up perfectly? Are all the features exactly in the same placement? Are the colors the same? If so then you can be reasonably sure that someone has copied your work.

Lets take a look at a blatant example of an original that has been copied. Look at it carefully. This copy can be placed over the original using tracing paper, they line up perfectly.

This is the copy

Here is the Original

Now this artist who copied the work of a very famous artist Greg Hildebrandt took the outline of the girl, she kept the original pose and changed the background, and the color of her hair. 
This is a very good example of someone copying another persons idea and artwork for their own benefit. This copycat could have been sued for a lot of money for this infringement.

I have heard artists say "what is the harm of copying isn't it a pure form of flattery?"
The answer to that is NO is is not and here are some things that copying does:

If you copy you cause confusion for the general public. The copy can be confused with the original.

Copying stops you from growing as an artist. To be a real artist you need to take chances and challenge yourself to paint original work.

If you are caught you will lose all respect as an artist. You will be thought of as a “hack” someone who can’t do it by themselves and has to steal from others. You will never get rid of that image or reputation.

If you try to sell on Esty or Ebay or sites that are similar you can have your account shut down if you are selling copies! 

Most importantly it is ILLEGAL! If you are stealing others work for your own financial gain you run the risk of being sued for violating copyright laws not to mention that you will look like a total idiot and gain some really bad publicity!

So in the end if you are an artist and you think someone has copied your work here are a few things you can do to start with before contacting a lawyer.

If you find a website that is copying your work or using it without permission you can:
 Go to this site and learn how to find out who owns the website that is featuring your work, or learn how to write a Cease and Desist letter.

Copyright-related Sites
Here are a few organizations with specific information regarding copyright and other rights

The United States Copyright Office
Web site: www.loc.gov/copyright/

The Copyright Society of the United States of America

FACE (Friends of Active Copyright Education)

an affiliated, educational initiative of the Copyright Society of the USA

Web site: http://www.csusa.org/face/

WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)

Headquarters: 34, chemin des Colombettes/ PO Box 18, CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

WIPO Coordination Office at the United Nations

2 United Nations Plaza, Suite 2525, New York, NY 10017

Some important tips to remember!

If you are an artist who is copying...remember you cannot change an original a little bit and call it your original work.
 You cannot work from photos that you do not own and copyright them.

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

What about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?
The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

New Free Pattern Blog

New Free Pattern Blog
Sharon Teal Coray has a new blog offering free patterns! Updated often! Check it out!