The Muddy Waters of Fair Use and Copyrights

Barack Obama designed by artist Shepard Fairey, based upon a stolen image, which was widely described as iconic and came to represent his 2008 presidential campaign.

Many of us find inspiration online through Google searches, photography websites and other artist sites. However, if working on a painting or visual that could become famous or end up in a gallery, think twice.

Most of the time when searching for inspiration we don’t intend that any artwork we create from a copyright photo will go anywhere. Often it’s for a personal study or sketch.

I doubt that artist Shepard Fairey anticipated his iconic hope poster of Barack Obama which was designed in one day, would become a painful experience (after all the excitement). I’m sure he had no idea beforehand the wild popularity of the poster and the legal battle over the image rights. If you don’t know the story it’s very interesting and you can read it here.

Years ago when I worked at a publishing company, a coworker who had labored over 2 years on Illustrating a children’s book had it printed (with a different publisher) and ready for distribution. She put her heart and soul in it.

She was crushed just before the release of the book when she was contacted by The National Geographic Society with a law suit threat. She had found and used for inspiration all the children’s photographs through The National Geographic and they were all copyright images.

Long story short, be cautious when using photography to base your artwork on. When working on gallery or commercial work get your camera and take all your shots. Even better, don’t do too much visual research…clear your mind of any visuals or styles from other artists so you can have a totally fresh and unique piece of art.

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3 Comments

  • I’m really loving your page/site/blog here. I’ve been developing a presence for sharing my own and others’ ccreativity and art on the facebook page noted as my website. I’m in the process of developing a blog website–but really want to develop a means for sales–with The-Arts-Cafe.com. I would love to submit some art… still need to get my copyrighting going… anyhoo this is a thanks for what you’re doing and a hope for on-going interaction.
    J. Alex M.

  • It is an honor to be a featured artist! This will help me expaind as a artist and get more exposure. I am so impressed with all of the things on this website. I cant wait to see what more you have instore in the future.

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