What are the laws concerning creating a painting / work of art from an already published photograph?

Question by schlum l: What are the laws concerning creating a painting / work of art from an already published photograph?
If an artist were to do a painting of a well known photograph, would he get into any legal copyright trouble trying to sell his representation of that image?

Best answer:

Answer by SB22
Oh yeah, LOTS of trouble! Even if it was not a well known photographer/photograph! All rights of ANY photograph (even unpublished) belongs to the photographer. It’s their artwork. There are people who do copy photographs in artwork, and some get away with it, but its still illegal to do. Sometimes you can get permission from the Photographer to reproduce their image, but that can get really tedious. It’s sort of like someone asking you to reproduce one of your original paintings, you probably wouldn’t be interested. I have heard of photographers who offer their original photos to artists, there’s usually a release form of some kind. The Artists Magazine has some ad’s in the back of each issue that offer some photo ref’s. There are good Artist Reference books available too, you can check them out at the Library if you don’t want to invest in one, and you can always copy your own photographs.

I had an assignment in College to copy a famous contemporary painting. But we were given strict guidelines as to what we could do with it afterwards, I sold it at some cheesy art sale at the University, but I had to give credit to the original artist and had to clearly disclose that it was a COPY of HIS work. But that was several years ago, I don’t think I’d do it again, there was just too much gray area to worry about. I also copied a drawing years ago, just for practice, it came out so good, but I can’t do anything with it (other then hang it in my own home) I can’t sell it, reproduce it, show it or even give it away, because it was of someone else’s work.

There are ways of sneaking around it, but it’s not worth it.

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3 Responses to What are the laws concerning creating a painting / work of art from an already published photograph?

  1. Rebel Yell says:

    If you paint it, that is a change perhaps significant enough if it is from a different media. Using a piece for inspiration is not illegal, but reproducing it for cash is. Tweak it just enough to make it your own and no one will bother you.

    Selling copies as your own is wrong, but learning from or using art to inspire new ideas is totally normal.

  2. jagjava says:

    What SB22 said is correct, but I will add a few things. copyright runs out on photographs over 100 years old. So if you wanted to paint a picture of Queen Victoria for example, you could.

    Some people are under the impression that if you change the image enough you can do it, but no this is wrong. If someone can recognize the painting as the work of someone else then you have copyright issues. Its a tough one because there are common everyday things that would be hard to prove, like say you wanted to paint a tiger using someone’s image. You are allowed to use a photo for reference, like to study the way the spots look or the way the fur lays, but what is the issue is if you are copying the composition, and the general “idea” of the photo.

    I found someone copied one of my paintings and I was pretty upset. The person claimed they made their own layout and worked from that but it was a copy of mine exactly !! I had them remove it from the web, but it haunts me because I don’t know if they are out selling it or putting it in a contest or what… so you just never know… best thing to do is just work from your own photos .. .that’s what I do .

  3. lare says:

    at least in the USA, non-mechanical reproduction of maps and artwork is not a “copy” in the legal sense. Mechanical replication, including a photograph requires permission of the original artist.

    your painting is a new creation. you select the method, materials, and input significant original thought. your are free to input your own feeling and flair. art students have used classical paintings and images for training and inspiration from time immemorial.

    It would be fraud though if you tried to pass off your work as having been the work of the other artist. Also there are some limitations if the subject person is identifiable or objects are recognizable commercial trademarks.

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