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Copyright Laws Explained

It seems that a lot of people are confused about copyright laws when it comes to art and art styles, borrowing, inspiration, and plagiarism, so I will attempt to explain things. First off, some definitions:

noun : the act of plagiarizing; taking someone’s words or ideas as if they were your own
pla·gia·rize (plj-rz)
verb. pla·gia·rized, pla·gia·riz·ing, pla·gia·riz·es
verb. transitive.
1. To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one’s own.
2. To appropriate for use as one’s own passages or ideas from (another).

verb. intransitive.
To put forth as original to oneself the ideas or words of another.

n. Abbr. c. or cop. The legal right granted to an author, artist, composer, playwright, publisher, or distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work.

And now, the US copyright laws for visual media:

Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy for the first time. “Copies” are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, artworks, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. (I would assume that this includes the internet as well).

If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work that is fixed on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that date.

Form of Notice for Visually Perceptible Copies

The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all the following three elements:

1. The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”; and

2. The year of first publication of the work. In the case of compilations or derivative works incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article; and

3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

Example: © 2002 John Doe

The “C in a circle” notice is used only on “visually perceptible copies.”

A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death. In the case of “a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire,” the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author’s identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

* To reproduce the work in copies; (make prints)

* To prepare derivative works based upon the work; (make other works like it)

* To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending; (sell prints, merchandise, and licensing)

* To display the copyrighted work publicly

What that all means in English:

Your original work is automaticly copyrighted when it is physically material. This means when I create a work of art, and of course I have the physical original in my hands, this means it is -automaticly- copyrighted to me once it is finished. As for works that are completely created using technological means (ie: photoshop on your computer), it must be printed out into a tangible, material form for copyright to apply. Once the work has been fixed in a physical form, it must include the © (year) (author), such as © 2002 Goldenwolf. Once this happens, no one, without your permission, may copy, distribute, sell, showcase, display, or license your work. Only -you-, as the creator, have that right. You do have the right, though, to give permission to others to do any of those things, but they may not do any of them without your consent. Once your piece is created, the copyright is yours for your entire lifetime plus 70 years after your death. After that it becomes public domain (anyone can use it for anything they wish).

The 10% Myth :

There is a myth floating around out there that if you change a work by at least 10%, then the original copyright no longer applies. That is absolutely false. According to copyright law, the original creator (or copyright holder) holds the exclusive rights to any and all derivitative works. What this means is ONLY the copyright holder (usually the artist themselves) has the right to modify their work -at all-, in whole or in part. This means to crop it, re-color it, flip it, re-arrange it, or otherwise change it in any way. If you take another person’s art and change it in some way, thinking to avoid copyright violation with the 10% myth, you are mistaken, and it is illegal (unless you have the copyright holder’s permission).

Copyright and “Intangible Ideas”

This seems to be a doozy of an issue on the online art community. When is and when is it not plagiarism? First off, let me explain the concept of an “Intangible Idea”. Let’s say I do a piece of art featuring a dolphin. Does this mean no one else may ever do art featuring dolphins? No. Dolphins are an intagible idea because -no one- can copyright dolphins as creatures. However, if I decide to do a piece featuring Chewbacca, someone else’s race and character, then that can be considered copyright infringement. Another example. Say I do a painting of a wolf sitting next to a pond looking down at his/her reflection. Now, the -idea- of a wolf sitting next to a pond looking at it’s reflection is intangible. It is an idea only, a vision. But when I physically create the piece, using my own talents and my own style, my own vision, that piece is now tangible, and thus it belongs to me. Now, say, some other artist also creates an image of a wolf sitting next to a pond looking at it’s reflection. They use their own vision, their own talent, their own knowledge to bring the piece to life. Is this plagiarism or infringement? No. Because they used thier own vision of what a wolf sitting next to a pond, looking at it’s reflection would look like, and I used mine. Likely the two images are totaly different, except for the intangible idea. Now, let’s say that the other artist perhaps saw my piece of the wolf sitting next to a pond looking at it’s reflection and liked the idea and wanted to try it. However, they used their own vision of the -concept- of a wolf sitting next to a pond looking at it’s reflection, and only used my art as inspiration, creating their image completely differently using their own skill and knowledge. This is not plagiarism or infringement. On the other hand, if they saw my piece with the wolf sitting next to the pond looking at it’s reflection, really liked it, and copied, say, the layout of the piece but used their own ideas for the pose of the wolf, the lighting, and color of the grass, then we are getting into infringement. And if they really liked my piece and decided to copy everything (ie the composition/layout, pose of the wolf, lighting, colors, mood, etc.) but did it in their own “style”, then we are really talking about plagiarism. Is this making any sense? Let me try to put it another way.

Say you are in an art class, and the teacher asks all of you to draw a picture of a house. Are you plagiarising one another? No, because the idea of a house is intangible. All of your versions of a “house” will be completely different from one another depending on your personality, your art style, your skill, and your knowledge of art.

Now say the teacher asks you to draw a cottage-style house on a hill with two trees next to it. Plagiarism? Again, no, for the same reasons.

Now the teacher asks all of you to look at one student’s work in particular and to copy what they did the best that you can. Now we can say that you are getting into plagiarism because you are taking from another’s work instead of your own imagination.

Lastly the teacher makes copies of the particular student’s work, passes them out, and tells you to copy them directly. While each student’s work will be subtly different, this is still very much plagiarism because you are copying another’s work completely if not outright tracing the image. (though, mind you, any teacher would simply be using this as a teaching aide and would not be trying to actually have you commit plagiarism).

So don’t feel bad if you have an awesome idea, and you spend a lot of time and effort on your idea and it comes out perfectly, only to find out another artist had the same idea and did something similar. There is no issue because you were both working off of an intangible idea. Ideas are contagious, and spawn creativity, so it’s all good in my book. Just don’t reference anyone else’s art when you are creating your own version of an intangible idea 🙂

Copyright While Learning

When we are first starting out as artists, most of us will copy others’ works. Everyone has done it, even I have done it. The legal issues of copyright in this area are still intact, however, so don’t think that it’s okay to copy others’ works even if it’s just to learn. However, most artists will allow you to copy their artwork for learning purposes, but that is all dependent on the artist in question. You -must- find out if it is okay with the original creator before you copy to learn, and get written permission if possible. Also, it is common courtesy that when you are copying another artists’ work to learn from that you include thier signature or some sort of notice that the work is not actually yours and who the original creator is/was.

I think that covers most of the major areas concerning copyright issues. If I feel there are other areas that need to be addressed I will add to this page. In the meantime, if you are still unclear on everything, here are some links to other websites on the subject of copyright pertaining to artwork and the internet. I hope you find the information usefull 🙂


Give Credit

Upcoming Shows – 2017

Upcoming shows I will be attending:

Colorado Country Christmas
Nov 3- 4 | Denver, CO

Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival
Nov 24 – 26 | Albuquerque, NM

La Casa Holiday Bazaar
Dec 1 – 3 | Las Cruces, NM

Shows I will not be attending, but where my artwork will be available:

Commission Queue:

(updated 5/2/18)

Drawing Commissions

ACEO Commissions

Nicholas W– 11 X 14 Two char, simple bg – Drawn

Draphilius– 11 X 14 WCCP two character, full bg – Not started

Grym– 9 X 12 WCCP two character, simple bg – Drawn

Smokepaw– 10 X 20 acrylic painting, – Not started

Jack K.– 9 X 12 two character, pencil shaded drawing– Not started

Stephania– 9 X 12 WCCP single character, simple bg – Not Started

Raechel Boddie– 9 X 12 Single char, simple bg – PLEASE CONTACT ME!

Valerie Powelson– 9 X 12 Drawing – PLEASE CONTACT ME!

Greg Ridgeway– 9 X 12 Single char, simple bg – PLEASE CONTACT ME!