Theft or Flattery???

Goldfinch Miniature 4" x 4"

Goldfinch Miniature
4″ x 4″

“A lotta cats copy the Mona Lisa but people still line up to see the original.” Louis Armstrong (from The Painter’s Keys)

Help me out here! When is it okay to appropriate someone else’s work to use for your work? Is it ever okay? Suppose you like to paint in the studio from photographs. Would you consider it acceptable to take someone’s photographs in the public domain for use in your work? Can that be considered acceptable if the original work cannot be identified in your work?

In the studio, I often work from photos. To do that, I take numerous photos. I do not consider myself to be a photographer because I lack the talent and skills of many of the wonderful professional photographers I know or see on this blog forum and others. I am adequate to get what I need for painting. But sometimes I will look online for other photos of the subject I am painting to get another angle or another light exposure. Is this an acceptable practice?

I ask this question because I recently posted a photo on a social media site of a scene from my garden. In the comments, a friend tagged one of his/her friends suggesting this other person should make a painting of my photo. My first thought was, “Did my friend suggest his/her friend should steal my work?” Or should I be flattered? I would love to hear what others out there have to say about this subject.

A popular opinion I have heard repeated is if your work is at least 10% or more different from the original work then it is acceptable. The Arts and Business Council of Nashville sponsors regular workshops on topics of interest to artists in the community. In June, Nashville attorney, Mary Neil Price, discussed this very subject. From what I gathered in her talk, it is never acceptable to appropriate another’s original artwork in yours without permission.

Two blogs I frequently enjoy are Avian101 and Talainsphotographyblog. Both regularly post beautiful bird and nature photography. To me, making a painting of any work from either blog would be stealing, not flattering. What do others think? Does that mean I can’t look at the way these photographers have caught the light on a bird’s head? I would love to know others opinions. Help me out here! Enquiring minds want to know. (Did I just steal that quote???)

10 thoughts on “Theft or Flattery???

  1. As you can see the opinions differ. I think that’s great. I also feel that because they differ a person needs to ask. I never mind when someone asks me for something but other people do and, therefore, one should always get permission out of respect for the artist.

  2. Or a matter of courtesy. I would always ask permission to use someone else’s image if I can identify the person. I would also credit them with the original image. If people can see you have given credit, you gain their respect for respecting others.

  3. Twice I have been asked if a photo I posted in Flicka could be used for a painting. I am not a professional photographer or a talented painter so I was flattered to think some one had seen some thing in my photo that appealed enough to them for them to want to paint it. I said yes I was honoured to have him use it, and I was pleased they had asked permission. With the amount of photographs posted I think it would be very hard to actually know if one had been used/stolen… I think the position changes dramatically when the photographer is a professional and the images are copy write and used in a commercial venture, then it is definitely stealing.
    Love your cute little goldfinch.

    • The question of copyright is very important and probably is was major part of this issue. Perhaps it comes down to first is it copyrighted and second the courtesy and respect of asking permission. Great comment!! Thanks! And thanks about the goldfinch! He and his pals are destroying my zinnias but they sure are cute!

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