Saturday, 23 June 2012

The darkness of copyrights

Do not worry, I took this picture - but maybe I should give a link back to the bakery

Do illustrators/painters/any artists have to only use their imagination or great memory -or money- to create work?
Recently I've been (super) worried about copyright issues. I often use photos as reference for my illustrations because : 

1 - I don't have access to the objects
2 - I don't have the money to buy the objects/go to the places/etc...

3 - I don't own a time machine to find the objects/take a picture of a celebrity/etc...

So, how do I do? Should I stop painting what I love because I can't buy it/photograph it myself? Only use my imagination? If I want to paint a portrait of Marilyn Monroe, how does it work? For obvious reasons, I can't take a photograph of her to base my portrait on... Do I break copyright by using someone else's? Do I have to contact/pay the photographer?...

When you think about it, everything around us is under copyright. 
If I take a picture of a copyrighted item and then base an illustration on it... Who has the copyright? The person who made the object? Or the person who took the picture?
There is such thing as "derivative work" which is a new version of an existing work.

But where is the limit? How much can you take from an image?
Copyright laws are such a dark area for me and I'm kind of ashamed to say this.
So many people don't know, are not aware of it.
You can't be ignorant of these things when you want to be a professional illustrator.

I'm actually having a little issue with one of my paintings. When it's not for a commission, I paint for fun, for myself. A few weeks ago, I found a photograph of the result of a recipe. I tried to track the original owner but it was impossible (the joys of tumblr). As I didn't plan to make any money out of it, I abandoned the researchs -shame on me.
But I've been contacted by a big company which would love to use my painting for one of their projects. I decided to spend all the time needed to find the owner.
Let me tell you, it tooks hours! But I found the website AND the photographer!

I wrote him a letter and I am now waiting for his answer. It is very stressful. 
Maybe I'll have to turn down this big opportunity but I prefer that than being sued!
How funny when you think I abandoned law studies to be an illustrator...

Anyway, if any of you knows more about copyright and would like to share their knowledge I would be very thankful.

I'll share the news as soon as I get a reply!


  1. T'as raison, c'est très "tricky". Moi je me suis posé la même question quand j'ai dessiné mon nain de jardin basé sur les illustrations de Rien Poortvliet (que j'admire énormément) et j'ai failli ne pas le mettre sur mon Etsy. Pourtant j'y pense souvent. En tout cas j'espère que tu auras une réponse positive très bientôt!

  2. This is interesting...copyright is a very murky grey area indeed! >.<
    I hope the photographer doesn't mind that you used his image to draw from, I don't see why he should.

  3. Copyright sure is a confusing area. My (limited) understanding is that this would count more as a derivative work. You have not used any parts of the image or tried to pass it off as your own so I don't think there could be any suing. It is a new piece of work that you have created and your own style and method will make it different from the original.

    Giving credit to the photographer is always a good idea but can sometimes be quite difficult. I think you've definitely done the right thing in tracking them down and contacting them. Hope they get back to you and are nice about it. xx

  4. Thank you so much for your nice comments and advices! It's such a complicated subject, I really want to know more!
    (I still have no news, let's hope he will read my email!)

  5. This makes me worried too! An artist shouldn't have to be a poet, writer, stylist, and photographer AS WELL as being an artist! What about all those artworks going around in fancy typography with sayings like 'not all those who wander are lost' ? I want to use song lyrics in pieces, including the credit to the writer, but I worry whether this is enough. As much as I can, I use my own photos or draw from life and avoid words altogether. I know people who say, 'try it, and if you run into problems worry about them when it happens.' Maybe you'd like to follow this blogger to see what they come up with: