Permission Free Clip Art Image from Dover Books publication 120 Great Impressionist Paintings Clip Art of an original painting by artist Pierre August-Renoir
I had another post slated for today, but something happened last night and I've decided to post again on the topic of Copyright Infringement. The internet is a fascinating beast, it's created a virtual free for all for intellectual property theft. It is like The Wild West. Right click, save, bingo...you own it. Right? It didn't have a watermark...so it's in the public domain, right?
If someone scans a picture of say Mickey Mouse or Spongebob Squarepants from a book or a cartoon it definitely won't have a watermark. If you download that image and duplicate it and sell it for profit, you've participated in copyright theft. So now there are two cases of copyright infringement. It is no different from walking into someone's home and slipping a vase you like into your purse. It's theft.
If you buy a pirated copy of a designer bag or shoes or hat, you've participated in copyright theft. Yeah, it's so much cheaper and you could never afford the real thing and shouldn't you have a right to own it? Nope.
Lots of people are doing it. They do it on eBay. They do it in Etsy. They do it on uBid. They do it at craft fairs and flea markets. So chances are, with the massive amounts of copyright infringement occurring on a daily basis on the internet and beyond, if you steal an image and copy it and use it in your art or sell it as a component to be used in someone elses art, you probably won't get caught. If you copy someone's work and sell it, you probably won't get caught. Though I can tell you that bigger companies like Disney and Nickelodeon and estates of celebrities like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe are diligent in seeking out this kind of stuff and prosecuting. If you do get caught, you could be in for an expensive lawsuit. No matter how you justify it, I can guarantee you the court will decide in their favor.
So just for clarity's sake I'm going to again explain the difference between recycling and stealing. If you physically cut out a printed image from a magazine, book, record cover or other printed form and you use it in your collage work...that's recycling. That being said, if you do you are still potentially infringing on copyrights, but there are fair use cases that have argued that these derivative works are acceptable. So it's a tricky situation that bears serious consideration and reflection and one I need to visit myself. If you copy or scan that image and use it or even manipulate it in Photoshop and sell that for profit or post it on the internet without proper attribution, you have stolen intellectual property.
Copyright protection in the United States lasts for 100 years or the artist's life plus 70 years unless the copyright is renewed. So unless you're using a public domain image from 1910 or earlier or an image that has been officially placed in the public domain or is sold by a reputable source as permission free (Dover Books has a huge selection of fabulous permission free images) then you are breaking copyright law. Copyright protection in Europe lasts for 70 years, so you can use European images from 1930 and earlier. Just because you can't find the copyright holder through a Google search, doesn't make it legal. Things are only in the public domain if the copyright holder has allowed them to be. That's why I use a lot of Victorian images in my work. That's why I collect ephemera from 1930s and before in Europe and from the Victorian era in the US. If it's protected by copyright, I will only use the original cut out printed page in a design, if not, I can scan and copy it and reuse it.
It's a fine line.
When I was working on my first book I contacted the estates of Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefe about using tiny scanned images from their artworks in a bracelet I created as a tribute to them. I really didn't fully understand copyright law back then, but I did know I needed permission to use their art in my design. They contacted me back with a resounding no. So for those of you who use Frida's work in your designs, her estate is not okay with that. They have and they will prosecute.
People download music, buy pirated music and videos, take ideas, blog posts and images from the internet and resell them or repost them or repurpose them. I do not buy pirated music or videos or feel it's okay to download music illegally. That's my personal feeling, but let me state that I am guilty of the right click, save and the use of copyrighted images in work I've created for personal use. That's not illegal. Personal use is different from resale, redistribution...but still. I'm not fully without sin myself and I'm thinking deeply about these things today.
The reason I'm writing this post is because I stumbled on to someone on eBay selling images of some famous attractive diminutive cartoon horses that she'd copied and printed and cut out into circles to sell for mixed media use. I figured she didn't know and since it was a fairly well known set of images, I shot her a quick message both to offer her a warning and also to see what goes on inside the head of someone who does this sort of thing. Oh, she knew. She was very defensive and upset that I'd singled her out because millions of other people were doing it. This is her justification...which blew my mind by the way...she is selling the physical scanning, formatting, printing and cutting of the images and not the images themselves.
Uh, people are buying the images. We can all cut out circles from paper and if we're really craft savvy we know that there are fabulous circle punches that make very quick work of cutting out circles. She also told me that lots of folks were doing it online and elsewhere and she removes anything if she is contacted by the company that owns the images. Uh, so if she gets caught she takes things down? Nice.
So does she steal stuff from her local shopping mall or from her friend's houses? Does she say to herself, "Lots of folks shoplift. If I get caught I'll give it back." Does she understand that if she gets caught she'll give it back and possibly go to jail?
Intellectual property is property. Think deeply about that fact. Ask yourself if you'd steal a physical object from someone's home or a store. If not, why is it okay to steal someone's creative output? Is it okay to profit from someone else's creativity? It's not.
It's not okay.
Justify it all you want. Good luck with that. But know that you might get caught and if you do it could be a very unfortunate situation.