art copyright questions

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  • i have come a lot of troubles and dilemmas lately with the artwork i have produced.

    due to the lack of reseources around me, i have been resorting to pictures off the internet.
    now i have tried contact the owner of the image but never seem to get any response back so i use the photo.

    in my artwork i use the image but use various styles and add extras to it so really it looks like a completely new image. this week i have produced a michael jackson piece of art, which i know that getting images of michael jackson with my own camera is impossible, so i have taken images of jacko and then used photoshop to change the image and changed the timing of his stances,adding things like his fedora hat changing his clothes and then done a pastel piece.

    what i want to know is, having used images off the internet and interpreting them, this would be copyright infringement, however i do not want to sell this artwork but want to use it in my portfolio to advertise my talents to several agencies, would this be possible or is it breaking the law even further?

    as said above my resources of reference images are low as to having not enough funds to cover this, i have used photo's of people such as my friends on facebook, if i were to sell this work i have done of them to the public, even with their permission, can they strike a wildcard on me if they tell a lie by saying they did not agree because there is no written consent to say they agreed even thought they agreed by voice?

    a lot of work i do now is no longer for educational or to enjoy, if i am to use images from the internet and contact the owner of the image and get no response, what would be the best option if there is no other image i can use?
  • In general, it is safest to assume that photos or other images on the web have copyright protection unless they explicitly state otherwise, so in order to use them as you describe, you would either need to do a fair use analysis and determine that your use would be fair, or you need to get permission from the copyright holder.

    If permission is needed, it is safest to have it in written format. That permission is basically a license or contract for you to use the material, and so it would be governed by contract law, not copyright. Not only am I not a lawyer, but I haven't studied contract law. My take on this as a lay person is that oral contracts may be binding, but they can be very difficult to prove, so if someone wanted to back out of that agreement, it might cause you some problems.

    In addition, you don't have permission to use a copyrighted item just because the copyright holder hasn't responded to your request, although it might have some impact on a fair use analysis. This is a frustrating part of the law. Many copyright experts would like to see the law changed to help resolve this "orphan works" issue.

    So, for many cases, this will come down to a fair use analysis. You can find information on fair use and a handy chart for guiding your analysis linked from our wiki at
  • i if i were to take a photo of person in the street doing something that relates to what i want to do, would i then need permission from the person in the photo. i just can't seem to get my head around all these copyright laws.

    there seem to be so many, or hidden prints that someone could just pull out on me if i release some of my work. even after hours and hours of research looking at existing work, only to find out that someone else has already done what i've just done.
  • Photos of people get you into privacy concerns, not copyright. But if you are just taking the photo as a reference for a pose, and altering it in your artwork so it is not recognizable as a certain individual, you should be safe. In your original question, though, you were asking about making artwork based on a real and well-known person. There I'm not so sure. There are some famous cases, like Andy Warhol's paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Shephard Fairey's recent poster of President Obama, where the artist does not seem to have gotten permission from the model -- but that's getting into an area of law (relating to public figures) I don't know much about.

    If you are looking for reference poses, you might try some of the sources of permission-free clip art, like Microsoft's website, where you can find photos you could safely use and alter.
  • There are some famous cases, like Andy Warhol's paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Shephard Fairey's recent poster of President Obama, where the artist does not seem to have gotten permission from the model
    My understanding is that there are separate issues here: copyright, privacy, and publicity. I don't know much about privacy or publicity law, especially because I believe that they vary from state to state. In terms of copyright, I believe that the issue with the Fairey poster of Obama was not that he didn't get permission of the model (Obama), but that he didn't get permission from the photographer. As far as I know, it has not yet been determined whether or not Fairey's use was legal. I can see arguements either way.
  • In the Shepherd Fairey case there are really three separable issues, which I think are instructive.

    First, ownership of the original picture. The photographer says he was an independent contractor who never agreed to a work for hire arrangement or transferred his copyright. He is happy with the use made by Fairey of his picture; it is AP which is disputing ownership and claiming infringement of their copyright.

    Second, there is an issue about whether the elements that Fairey copied from the photo -- most of which are the facial features of Barack Obama -- are protectable. When unprotectable elements are filtered out of the analysis, is there really any infringement?

    Third, is the use of the photo fair use? I would think that a court would only get to a fair use analysis if it has already resolved both of the other two issues in AP's favor.

    I suppose Obama might have a right of publicity claim against Fairey for using his (Obama's) image for a commercial purpose, but since Fairey was working with the Obama campaign, that seems unlikely. Interestingly, I was in Turkey a few months ago, just before the President visited there, and a bank was using Obama's image for advertising posters. That would surely be a violation of the right of publicity, but I imagine it would be unseemly for a sitting president to sue, even if Turkish law would recognize the right.

    On the privacy issue, a photograph taken in a public place that does not put the subject in a false "bad light" or reveal private facts to the public -- which is the case with the Obama photo -- seems unlikely, to me, to run afoul of any of the various common law privacy torts that are codified in state laws.

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