What's the Deal with Copyright?

I'm getting ready to order some more framing materials, and I'm trying to decide which of my unframed paintings to frame. As I flip through my portfolio, I see a bit of a retrospective of previous work, often paintings that I've forgotten about. Some of them are unframed for a good reason, and, once my emotional attachment to them has faded, I can pitch them in the garbage. I don't believe in keeping sub-par work. Others are lovely - and need to go in the garbage as well.

Why would I trash a beautiful painting? Two words - copyright violation. Because my photography skills are limited, I often use reference images from outside sources - web pages, books, and magazines. Gardening magazines are a great source for floral references, because the quality of the photography is so great and the size is often large and close-up. But in my early years of watercolor, as I developed my technique, I tended to slavishly copy whatever reference I was using. And every now and then, even now, I will blank out and copy a photo, only to realize when it is complete that what I have achieved is not saleable.

Copyright law is confusing for artists. What I am painting is not a photograph, and so it is not identical to the reference image. But, what I have learned from my research into the subject is that if it is possible to connect the completed painting with the source of inspiration, it is very likely a copyright violation. I don't want anyone stealing my work and attributing it to themselves, so I want to be very careful not to do it myself.

I still use outside images as references, but I am very careful that when my painting is completed that there is no obvious link to the original image. I use a floral photograph to give me information on the structure of the flower, but I do not copy the arrangement, angle, or placement used in the photo.

I have more on copyright that will have to continue in a future post.

Some good places to research copyright:
Copyright for Collage Artists (applies to all artists)
United States Copyright Office Site (most westernized countries apply the same laws)
Artist's Rights Society

ArtAngela FehrComment