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Copyright For Artists

Myths about Copyright


Isn't it Fair Use?
'Fair Use' is one of the most misunderstood concepts in copyright law, probably because of the reference to reproducing a 'small portion' - often quoted as 'ten percent'. However that small portion referred to is for review, criticism, illustration of a lesson, or quotation in a scholarly or technical work. Creation of an drawing for its own artistic merits doesn't get a mention. The US copyright office mentions parody, which some artworks are, but this is a specific instance - and you might have to prove it in court. If you copy part of an artwork for the purpose of a learning, that's one thing, but as soon as you exhibit that work, its function has changed - exhibition is regarded as advertising - and you are now in breach of copyright.

But it's an old work of art. It must be out of copyright.
Copyright in most countries is considered to have expired 70 years after its creator has died. So while you might think of an early Picasso as old, the artist only died in 1973, so you'll have to wait till 2043 to use it. Its also worth being aware that the estates of some successful artists and musicians often apply to have copyright extended.

I found it on the internet. Doesn't that mean it's public? No. No no and no. The internet is just another medium, like an electronic newspaper. The newspaper publisher holds the copyright of its images, the publisher of the website holds copyright of theirs. You'll often find illegally reproduced images on websites - that doesn't mean you can use them too.

I changed it ten percent. Does that make it okay?
No. Sorry. That's another myth that originated from the 'fair use' guidelines, but as we've already established, most drawing doesn't come under 'fair use', and copying, even if you change it, breaches copyright. End of story.

They wouldn't care about my little drawing. They wouldn't catch me, anyway.
'Small fry' do get prosecuted. You could be up for a hefty fine - and we're talking thousands of dollars - and the destruction of your work. You might not intend to exhibit the work now, but what if you change your mind later? What if someone loves it and wants to buy it? Anyone can see your work on the internet, and small exhibitions or shops can easily get reported. Don't risk it.

They must be making millions. What does one little drawing matter?
You wouldn't take an object from someone's home, however rich they were: that would be theft. Unfair use of someone else's photo or artwork is just as much theft as if you stole their wallet. For professionals - most people whose work you find published in books and magazines - their art is their livelihood. They have invested hours in study and experience, and dollars in materials and equipment. The money from sales pays the bills and sends their kids to college. When other people sell images copied from their work, it means one less sale for the artist. If its a big publisher, maybe the artist only gets a small percentage, but those small percentages all add up.

DISCLAIMER:I am not a lawyer or copyright expert. This article is for general information only and is not intended to be any form of legal advice. To answer specific legal questions, consult your legal professional.

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