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Copyright Guidelines for Artists: How to Avoid Copyright Infringement

If you’ve been following my blog posts for a while, you’ve probably seen my Voices and Visions poetry illustration series, which I have posted on my blog. Some of these feature celebrity portraits, such as my Maya Angelou portrait, And Still I Rise, and my biographical portrait of singer/songwriter, Sting. To create these portraits, I have combined several photographic sources to make a photo collage in Adobe Photoshop as references for the drawings and paintings for my poetry series. I want to avoid copyright infringement, especially since some of the photos are photos of celebrities.  In addition, I have seen celebrity portraits often on websites such as Etsy and Pinterest and I have wondered, what constitutes copyright infringement when using photographic sources other than your own?  Is there such as thing as changing the photographic source “enough” to make it your own, or not?

Since I am new to the word of art entrepreneurship, the concept and understanding of copyright infringement with regard to the visual arts are somewhat new to me. On the other hand, I have heard about the subject in passing, such as in the celebrated case of the Obama poster campaign portrait, in Associated Press vs. Fairey, (2009), in which a photo of former President Barak Obama taken by AP freelancer, Mannie Garcia, was used by graphic artist Shepherd Fairey to create a campaign poster for Obama. ( Source: Kaitlyn Ellison, 2014, 5 Famous Copyright Infringement Cases (and what you can learn, retrieved from https://99designs.com/blog/tips/5-famous-copyright-infringement-cases/). Accessed 16 January 2018.  As a former history major in college, I am much more familiar with the issue of plagiarism with regards to the written word, as in not citing your sources in research papers and essays, etc. When I was a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, if a student was found guilty of plagiarism, with regard to a term paper or essay, they would be booted out of the University, permanently. As a result, I meticulously cited my sources as I took notes, and double and triple checked for paraphrasing and direct quotes during each draft of a research paper. I know many of the guidelines which refer to that sort of subject, such as you should always cite your sources when you give direct quotes or paraphrase another person’s ideas, both in the body of your paper as footnotes and at the end of your paper as works cited page. In fact, there are even websites devoted to the study of specific types of citation methods such as APA style, Chicago style, etc., which you can learn about on the Purdue Online Writing Lab which can be accessed on the following link,https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/, and how to implement these styles in a college essay.

On the other hand, the world of artistic copyright infringement seems murkier to me.  How do artists avoid copyright infringements when creating art and how do they protect their own works from unlawful use or theft?  To find out, I started researching some articles online about copyright infringement…I discovered that there is no magic formula for changing a source photograph enough to make it original and that it is far better to use your own photos if at all possible, according to the author, Helen South, 2017, of the article, What Artists Need to Know About Copyright. On the other hand, if this is not possible, as, in the example of using photos of celebrities, artists can make use of websites such as Wikimedia or Wikipedia to look up photos of specific celebrities. (ibid) These websites give details about the provenance of each photo, such as whether it is copy written, the photographer’s name, date of creation, and whether or not this photo is available for use, and under what terms. The photographs have a citation that states, its sources, such as the photographer that took the photo and whether it is labeled public domain or creative commons. (ibid)

Be sure to read all the notations about the artwork to be sure it is not copy written and to understand the conditions for which it may be used.  Finally, another example of copyright usage is when artists make master copies of other artists work for their own study and development. For example, well-known artists such as Mary Cassatt, considered studying the old masters and copying their work to be an integral part of an artist’s education, and she copied old master masters, by Italian artist, Correggio.  (Source: The Art Story: Modern Art Insight, Mary Cassatt, American Draftsman, Painter and Printmaker, retrieved from http://www.theartstory.org/artist-cassatt-mary.htm, Accessed on 19 January 2018. Biography.com, Mary Cassatt: Painter, (1844-1926), retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/mary-cassatt-9240820. Accessed on 19 January 2018. and Getlein, Frank.  Mary Cassatt: Paintings and Prints, Abbeville Press Publishers: 1980, New York, pg. 12.

It is important to label your master copies with the notation, After (Artist’s Name). You can also add additional information such as the title of the work, date of creation, medium, and the date that you executed your version of the masterwork on the back of the painting. In addition, to avoid claims of plagiarism or worse yet, art forgery, I never sell my masterworks and only use them to learn more about technique and I always give credit where credit is due. If I post them on my website or elsewhere, such as Instagram, I clearly indicate that they are master copies with all of the details about the picture’s provenance. This article is by no means comprehensive about the ins and outs of copyright law regarding visual art

portrait of Sting
Here is the updated version of my biographical portrait of Sting. It is a mixture of acrylic and watercolor paints and pencil. I am still working out the composition and the water reflections.

and is only intended as a basic introduction to the subject. Thank you for stopping by!

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