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Copyright Law

Copyright law - Some things artists should know

by Ruth Mann


Several months ago the rules of the Get Dusty were amended in that entrants are now required to state the source of their reference when they enter a painting. It has always been a rule that an entrant should be entitled to use any reference material that they have used to produce their entry, but not that source should be identified. Overview Many of us work from photos, either our own or those belonging to friends and family. There are also millions of images on the internet which can be downloaded with ease.......but read on.

 Copyright Law gives the creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, amongst other things, the rights to control the ways in which their material is used. It is an automatic right and does not need to be applied for or even stated. The duration of copyright is often 70 years after the death of the last “author” of the item in question. Check as this may vary from country to country, and from medium to medium. So an artist can copy the work of the old masters and other great artists, as long as it is not passed off as that artist's original idea of course!

The work should be signed: “After Name Of Old Master, Your Own Name”, to make it clear it is not a forgery. So, basically, any reference image used to produce a piece of artwork will be subject to copyright, as will any existing original artwork. If it is your own image then you, of course, have the right to copy it. If it belongs to a friend or family member it should be quite simple to get permission (unless that person is a photographer or artist when they may not allow it). Free on the internet? What about images found on the internet, in magazines, greetings cards etc? Unless the copyright owner of an image has specifically granted permission for anyone to make a derivative work from that image you should be aware that you will breach that person's copyright if you reproduce it (or make a derivative work from it) and then exhibit, sell, give away or in any way make the work public. Entering the Get Dusty, showing your work on a forum or on Facebook are all examples of making your work public.

Some sites have photo libraries where the copyright owner, by uploading them, grants permission for viewers to use them to produce artwork which may be shown or sold with no restriction. In many cases this does not extend to distributing the original image so, for example, you would be in breach if you showed the reference photo you used on your website. Small print When searching for reference images on the internet be sure to read the small print relating to the use of any image. “Royalty free” and “creative commons licence” sound great. However, there are often strings attached. For example some creative commons licences are granted for noncommercial use only.

So any work derived from such a reference must not be sold or entered into a competition with a prize. Royalty free simply means that the copyright owner waives the right to receive royalties (payments) from your sale of a reproduced or derivative work. You may still have to pay for a licence to use it in the first place!

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