Art Questions

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  • Hi, I was wondering if I could have some help with a few art-related copyright questions. Sorry about there being so many, but copyright law is quite confusing to me, and anymore I feel like the most seemingly-innocent activities could somehow be construed as copyright violations.

    1. Is it alright to use pictures from the internet as a reference in creating a new work? For instance, I am painting a mural at an elementary school of a flaming basketball flying into a hoop, and I printed off a picture of a basketball and hoop in order to draw it. Would such a use qualify as transformative?

    2. Can I create a painting or similar work based on the lyrics of a song, or from a scene in a book?

    3. Is it legal to produce fan art, and if so what can be done with the fan art produced? Obviously it can't be sold, but I've read that fan art in general is a violation of copyright law due to the fact that it is a derivative work (which, to me doesn't make sense, since you are able to buy how-to-draw books of certain copyrighted/trademarked characters.)

    4. Am I able to re-create someone else's work for a purpose such as an art class or just for fun? For instance, say I wanted to paint a picture of the Mona Lisa (supposing that it wasn't in the public domain.) Could I do this?

    5. This is sort of a continuation of the previous question- Our high school has an art show each year, and, provided the answer to the above question is "yes," would one be permitted to enter one's work in the show if it was a reproduction of another work?

    6. Again, related to the above question, would it be legal to include photos of the above work on the art show page in our school's yearbook?

    7. Finally, to what extent can artwork be featured in things such as photos and videos? This may seem like a strange question, but I've heard before that TV show producers, etc. have gotten in trouble simply for featuring paintings hanging on the wall without the artist's permission. If such is the case, would things such as wallpaper with designs on it or other such decorations be violating copyright, if, say, they appeared in a Youtube or similar video?

    Again, sorry about the large quantity of questions. I know some of them sound sort of dumb, but as I said, I am very confused. Any help would be deeply appreciated.
  • Under section106 of U.S. copyright law, the copyright owner has exclusive rights of reproduction, adaptation, distribution, public display and public performance. Unless your intended use falls under an exception (section107 et seq), you would need to get permission before reproducing or adapting a copyrighted work. When in doubt as to whether your particular use falls under fair use or some other exception, your safest route is to ask for permission.

    1. school mural - if your work is clearly a reproduction or adaptation of a copyrighted image, in my opinion you would need to obtain permission to include in a public mural. The gray area here is whether your work is clearly a reproduction or adaptation. If you paint your version of Mickey Mouse in the mural, that would be a clear adaptation. A generic basketball/hoop might not be.

    2. artwork inspired by song or book - if you are not reproducing or adapting copyrighted or trademarked images (e.g., from album cover, book illustrations, movie version, or other copyrighted images), I think that you would have a good argument for fair use.

    3. fan art - usually infringement because it usually involves reproducing or adapting copyrighted images, photos, lyrics, etc.

    4. reproducing/adapting works for classroom or personal use - this may fall under section 107 fair use exception if the intended use is within a classroom (students taking the class for a grade, k-12 or academic) or for your own personal use (not for distribution to others).

    5. public art display - if the original art work being reproduced or adapted is in the public domain, then no infringement. If the original work is still protected by copyright, then probably infringement unless the use falls under an exception (for example, an adaptation might be a fair use parody of the original)

    6. and 7. sometimes it is possible that photos of an art exhibit could fall under section 107 news reporting exception, but usually you need to get permission from the artists before printing/posting photos of their artwork

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