• Gerry

When in doubt, throw it out!

So, there I was, minding my own business, living an uncomplicated life, retiring from nursing to enjoy the simple life of an artist. (Cue the violins and birdsong!)

Brother was I wrong!

Copyright law is a booger to grasp and even harder to try to hold onto – and that was how it was meant to be, apparently. We all know that jurisprudence is up to the interpretation of the law, and this is the bedrock of the copyright laws. Now mix in the internet with social media and you have the makings of the perfect storm. This year, hundreds of songs, books. plays, photos, paintings and other art works with a publlishing date of 1923 will be placed in the Public Domain. "Yes we have no Bananas" is just one of them.

No Virginia, you cannot use a picture to copy just because it’s floating around Facebook.

In order to clarify this slippery slope for myself, I decided to go in for the deep stuff to figure out if I can really use something as a model to paint. I am going to try to present it here in a logical form, but don’t sue me if it’s not right. I suggest you fact check me with your own research. To help you with your research, I have attached this link to a very inclusive article on this subject:


So, here is my non-simplified simplified explanation and check list of the copyright laws as it related to sketch artist’s rendering a picture from a photo or another painting.

1. IMPORTANT: If a picture shows up in social media, it is not free for you to copy and then sell. It’s not ethical and it’s complicated.

2. Any time someone takes/makes a picture, it absorbs United States Copyright protection without any other actions on the part of the creator. It becomes intellectual property of the person who created it. Of course, you can apply for an official copyright, fill out all the paperwork, pay your $35, etc for additional protection by the law, but the basic copyright protection is there automatically. For works created in the U.S., copyright lasts from the moment a work is created until 70 years after the death of the author, except for works produced by a company/employer in which case the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of publication - and if the Federal Gov created the image, it is never copyrighted.(Just don’t take this as written in stone. Those dates will vary and change according the law and depending on type and content)

3. If you want to use a picture as a model you need to ask yourself several questions:

a. Did I take this picture? If yes, you have nothing to worry about. Use it!

b. Did someone else make this picture? If yes, then put on the breaks and begin a search:

i. Who is the original creator of the picture

ii. What is their contact information. Ask them for permission to use, or pay them for the privilege

iii. If you cannot find the original creator, ask yourself this “How lucky do I feel?”

iv. When in doubt, throw it out.

v. UNLESS…its for FAIR USE. Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder for purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, research and scholarship, and teaching. It cannot be stressed enough: fair use is a gray area.

There are four factors to consider when determining whether your use is fair:

· the purpose and character of your use

· the nature of the copyrighted work

· the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and