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Thread: Photos protected for the copyright, as reference.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2006

    Photos protected for the copyright, as reference.

    It would like to know if I can use photographs protected for the copyright, unloaded of the Internet, as reference for a painting or drawing.
    I am thankful very, also, some link for small sites on the internet, that clarify me concerning the cited subject.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Hi JD,

    I'm not an expert on this, but in my experience as long as the photography you are using is just for reference and the work you produce from it is just for yourself, then there won't be a problem. However, if you want to put that work in the public domain or try to sell it then you must try and contact the photographer and get there written permission.
    It will also depend on how similar your painting is to the photograph, i only use photography as a starting point, to give me ideas etc... My finished work is rarely anything like the reference material i have used. At the end of the day, if in doubt and especially if you intend to sell your work, always get permission.


    'If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.' - Vincent Van Gogh

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Rochester, New York
    You really should contact a copyright office in the country you live. In the USA I am familiar with copyright laws from personally registering over 100 natural and digital paintings/drawings.

    If you are using a photograph of nature or scenery, no photographer has the right to copyright the scene, only the photograph they have taken of the scenery (you cannot copy the photo and call it your own). Yet the landmark and what is seen visually itself is accessible to anyone, therefore reference here is open to anything.

    When it comes to popular personalities in the media such as a movie star, character, rock star, or sports person, using a reference is acceptable so long as you do not commercially start selling prints or originals without permission. If you create from reference a painting or drawing of a character in entertainment, you'll need permission from the creator to sell anything. Here you could also run into the problem of trademarks. Most people would probably allow you to sell something if they get a piece of the action themselves, especially if something you are selling is successfully resulting in a large amount of sales and revenue. I have a Xena Warrior Princess web site with paintings created from pictures and DVD's as reference. The paintings were created from scratch starting with natural media pencil drawings. I have never tried to copyright these digital paintings due to trademark issues. Xena is a trademark of a TV series. It is a web site done for fun and practice as a fan, no money being made. This actually helps to promote the TV series if nothing else.

    When it comes to selling and copyright you're best choice is to work with creative stuff from your imagination. No issues here. Reason I bring up this point of view is this example. Lets say you are looking at a beautiful flower garden in your neighbors yard. You decide this would make a great photograph. If you took a picture of this garden there is no copyright violation for the photograph that is original, yet you could run into an issue of invasion of privacy. People in popular exposure through movies, recording industry, or professional sports players loose their right to invasion of privacy as a result of being commercially accessible to the public. This is what allows TV, newspapers, paparazzi, and others to snap photos of them to use for their rags and publications.

    Using something from reference is different from copying. You can easily copy something through technology (scanning), and then attempt to sell prints. If the creator has been contacted and allows you to do this (best to get it in writing), you are not doing anything illegal. If you try to sell something without the creators permission they can come after you for all the money you make off of your copies and a fine.
    The very first digital art program that I worked with Art Rage 1

    You may visit my personally designed website at:
    There is one section full of pages there under the Digital Artwork category that is devoted entirely to paintings I have created with Art Rage.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
    Copyright can be weird. In some countries, it is illegal to take pictures of certain well-known buildings and then sell them as your own work, without written consent of the owners. This applies to famous buildings such as museums and the like. A shame, but true.

    In some cases, websites that feature photography can be very generous with the rights they grant digital artists. For example, I know ("natural nudes" that won't offend anyone except the most purient) allows many of the images from certain photographers to be used as reference since many seeking to learn to sketch the human body don't have access to life drawing classes etc.

    But the best course of action is to always seek permission, even if your final work is so heavily modified and "artified" that the original would become unrecognizable. I've often emailed a photographer with a heavily "artified" work where I used his/her photo as reference and ask if it's OK. In almost 100% of the cases they've been fine with it (most bot even recognizing their original work).

    Always ask = always safe.
    DaveyJJ --> | |
    "Inside each one of us is an artist ... a child who has never lost the gift of looking at life with curiousity and wonder." Arthur Lismer

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