Copyright Laws and Copying Ideas 101

Copyright laws and rules are wide, varied, vague, and can contradict from one government to another. So it's no wonder a lot of myths and perceptions of what you can and can not do continue to perpetuate. There are even legal cases where the judge ruled in favor of the wrong party because of confusion in how the law was interpreted.

For example, if I have a web site and insert an image into a web page and provide a link and credit to the person who owns the image, many people think it's OK to do that. It's not OK. You do not have the right to use the image unless you receive permission. "Permission" may be written notice or payment of a fee or both. Even if I state this, there will be people who will disagree because it is one of those many misconceptions.

A few things I have come across at DreamsTime:

(1) I was doing some research for image ideas and found that someone had uploaded a logo for a sporting event as if it were their own image. I caught it just after DT caught it and it has been removed from the database. It had been made available as an editorial but that doesn't give you the right to sell the image. "Editorial" is not a label that allows you to sell an image that does not belong to you.

(2) I have been finding instances with illustrations where they have been copied from other images that you can find on the internet. I won't say it's stealing because it's possible the illustrator created both versions of the image. But if that is not the case, you could be putting yourself and DT at risk for copyright infringement.

(3) Also, a while back someone posted a blog on how to get "ideas" for illustrations. The method was so search the internet for photographs and then trace them into illustrations. Even if you create the new version by hand, that does not give you the right to sell your image commercially. (The account in question was soon removed from DT soon after that blog was posted).

Perhaps it's confusing for many because there are some scenarios where it is legal. If I create an image of the logo for General Electric and sold the image as ART, it is OK to do that. There is a fine line here. Calling something "art" and the same image "stock" are two very different things. I can sell my painting of the logo and sell prints of the painting, too, but only as art. I am selling the image as my CREATION; I am NOT selling the USE of the LOGO. Huge difference! Even then, other rules apply to where this may not be OK and is too complicated for a short blog.

Some basic rules:

1. You can't photograph another photograph and sell it as your own

2. You can't copy another illustration and sell it as your own even if you do it in your own style

3. You can't make illustrations from photographs that do not belong to you

If it perfectly all right to use images of others to see how to draw the body or parts of the body, to get ideas, and to see how others presented a concept that you already have an idea for. In both worlds of art and stock, there really aren't any original ideas; it's all been done before. What hasn't been done before is your own personal style for an idea or finding new twists to old concepts. But... reworking someone else's image and then selling it as your own, people make many mistakes, and some of them have been very costly.

Since you have to post at least one image in a blog, I will leave with some examples where it is OK to have the same image that someone else did; but I hope you are starting to understand why. :-)

Photo credits: Alaskaphoto, Amy Harris, Patricia Gleason.

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September 05, 2010


Sharing this article on Facebook wouldnt infringe the rights of the photographers mentioned?

Sharing this article on Facebook would infringe the rights of the author unless he shared it.

The 2 images displayed in the comments could be deemed to be in use as editorial as they are being used to educate and illustrate an informative (editorial) article and as such would likely fall under the Fair Use Act. That does not change the fact that the offering of the two images above as Royalty Free Stock violates the © of the creators of the artworks.

Fair Use in and of it's self is a murky area of grey as each case of Fair Use is determined by the courts based on the merits of the case. There are no absolute clear cut definitions of Fair Use, only general guidelines by which we can go.

September 05, 2010


The image above of the blown glass flowers is the ceiling of the Beliagio Hotel Lobby in Las Vegas and is very much protected under copyright of the artist as well as the fact that it resides on private property with a no commercial photography photo policy without permission and permit.

It should not be available as royalty free as it is a copy of a copyright protected piece of art.

As far as the confusion of copyright law across international border there is the Brene Convention which brings 118 countries together to abide by the often times more strict US Copyright law. Signatories to this article of law as well as answers to most of your copyright questions can be found on at least for those willing to research for them selves and do a little educational reading.

In this business it behooves every contributor to spend a couple days there reading at least the bones of the laws and gaining a clear understanding of how and why copyright law works.

September 05, 2010


Sharing this article on Facebook wouldn't infringe the rights of the photographers mentioned?

July 12, 2010


If it is not yours do not use it. Plain & Simple.

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July 11, 2010


Thanks for the insight info on such a complex subject.

July 11, 2010


Very interesting point about the difference between art and stock.

July 10, 2010


If it is not yours do not use it. Plain & Simple.
If you want to use it send an e-mail to the site admin or owner and ask. If they reply with a yes only then use it.

July 02, 2010


Good blog. Thanks for this - confusion is caused by different laws applying in different countries and the complexity of those laws. I'm a lawyer (in Employment), but I still don't fully understand British copyright laws....and as for Judges, don't get me started!

June 21, 2010


Thanks for making this all a bit clearer. It does get complicated and confusing at times.

June 15, 2010


Are you allowed to photograph a piece of art and sell it as stock?
What gives?

This is beyond my knowledge but in the United States public spaces generally are fair game unless there are objects that are trademarked or copyrighted in the image.

Making a mistake is one thing, as I work more in the stock field I am seeing more and more outright instances of image theft. I don't know if it's because people think they won't get caught or if they just don't know the basic rules.

June 15, 2010


Are you allowed to photograph a piece of art and sell it as stock?
I am asking because if you search Rodin in DT you will find quite a few sculptures
 Burgher's of Calais at Westminster 
for example. There are others that are editorial.
I took a few pictures at an art exhibit of Chihuly and they were promptly refused by DT (I should have made them editorial but then I thought editorial is only newsworthy.)
but then here is this:
 Glass Flower Art 

What gives?

June 15, 2010


Thanks for the info! In my opinion, this is a very useful article! Well done.

June 15, 2010


thanks for giving a clear explanation :)

June 14, 2010


The copy rights is an issue that is complicated! I'm still with so many questions about the editorial images!
Thanks for bringing up the issue!

June 14, 2010


I have run into this problem and was wondering about the illustrations. There is someone who is sort of copying my images in their style and I didn't think there was anything I could do about it.

June 14, 2010


good point of view!

June 14, 2010


Thanks for making this more clear for everyone.

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