Copyright Questions

I often get asked that if you exhibit or sell paintings you have created that have been done in a workshop or from a step-by-step art book, is it acceptable or legal? In short the answer is ‘no’. However most of us art tutors understand that when you start out learning to paint or draw, our instruction will be the only reference point you have so are fairly lenient.

It all boils down to two areas: permission and profit. By attending an art workshop or buying an art instruction book, you (may) have the artist’s permission to reproduce their painting(s), as it is often taught in a step-by-step fashion. However, this does not mean you have their permission to reproduce their artwork to sell on or make a profit from. They are not the same thing.

In reproducing a painting that is being taught (whether it be in book form or in a class), you are being allowed to use the artist’s ideas to learn techniques to become a foundation to your own style so that you can create and sell your own paintings from what has been taught. Most tutors will accept that when you start out that you will exhibit and sell one or two of your versions of their paintings, the problem can begin if they become your ‘best sellers’ and more versions are painted and are either repeatedly sold, or prints made from them as greetings cards or open print runs.

It could also be a problem if you reproduce any painting from any art book, even that is a step-by-step book as the publisher and artist has exclusive rights to its reproduction.

Why could you get into trouble? You are painting a picture that is basically someone else’s originality – it is their composition, their colour choice, their entire own idea; and without careful consideration you could be in breach of copyright law. The same goes if you are using photographs you find on the internet or in books to copy from.

Here a few steps you can take to make sure that you are never in breach of copyright law:

1. (i) Always where possible, only sell art work that is of your own originality and not copied. Use your own photographs to work from at all times.

2. (ii) Ask the owner of the original painting or photograph for permission to sell it. Permission will often be granted especially by your art tutor. However, do not make prints of them or turn them into greeting s cards. Make sure it is a ‘one-off’. But if working from an art book, you would need to contact the publisher for permission to reproduce the painting as they may have exclusive rights on that image.

3. (iii) Where possible, credit the originator of the painting on the back: ‘inspired by a painting from…’, or ‘after…’.

4. (iv) Check the front pages of the book you are using. Some clearly say that ‘no images may be reproduced in any form’, others say ‘a substantial part may not be reproduced’.

In short, it is much easier to only produce art work that is yours and only yours – painted by you from a photograph that you have taken. There are one or two websites available that allow artists to use the images posted on there, but always check the copyright before copying it.

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