What are the rules for drawing from a reference photo that is not yours?
February 24, 2013 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Lets say I found an amazing macro photograph of a flower or of an old building and I wanted to do a very detailed graphite drawing of the photo. Am I able to claim this drawing as 'my' artwork? Can I use it in a painting to sell? Does the photographer need to be credited? Do I need permission in the first place to use the photo as reference or should I just avoid all the potential hassle and take my own darned photographs for reference from which to draw?
posted by tenaciousmoon to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can justify what you're doing if it falls under "fair use" exception clauses: Examples of fair use include commentary, search engines, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.

The reality is that unless you're famous or someone calls the copyright owner's attention to it you'll probably get away with it but if you are caught you can absolutely be sued (Rogers v. Koons). It is always a better idea to take your own darned photographs.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:49 AM on February 24, 2013

You can get sued for it.
posted by empath at 10:56 AM on February 24, 2013

If you don't want to take your own, morguefile.com is a good source for free images.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:34 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was in art school we were taught that someone else's photography was their work and if we did a direct copy for sale, we could be sued. It's one thing to use pictures for reference and quite another to copy something wholesale.

I'd take my own pics if I were you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:12 PM on February 24, 2013

Thank you all for the quick answers, I was having a helluva time googling it!
I will definitely be taking and using my own pictures for reference! :)
posted by tenaciousmoon at 12:38 PM on February 24, 2013

What you are doing is producing a derivative work. If it's from a photo you took yourself then (obviously) that's fine. Likewise if you have bought the photo and the rights to do that from say a photo agency. There are also places like deviantart where people will put up photos and say they don't mind people using them in art (sometimes with caveats) or say creative commons

You are however allowed to reference a photograph / artwork or transform it....

Where the line is between a derivative and a transformed work is not really clear legally (as I understand it) so it's better to be on the safe side.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:53 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to use someone else's photo and know who's it is then just ask them if you can have permission to use the photo to draw from. If you might want to sell your work then mention that to them as well. That's what I do as I like drawing horses and other animals. I have some of my own photos but not of some of the animals I want to draw. So I go on Flickr search for photos I like then message the people who own the photos. I've had so few people say no. In fact most people are delighted that I've actually asked, see it as a compliment and ask that they can see the finished work. Just remember to save the email for the future.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 1:42 PM on February 24, 2013

nthing just asking owners of photos for permission. I would happily give permission for such use of most of my photos. The only ones I wouldn't are ones I have/plan to use in art myself. I would expect that most people, especially hobbyists, would indeed see such a request as a complement.
posted by batikrose at 9:46 PM on February 24, 2013

Friedman v Guetta
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:42 PM on February 24, 2013

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