What is copyright? It is the “right” to “copy” or reproduce your art, your intellectual or creative property. “Copy” means “copy” in any way, shape, or form. If someone else does this, without your permission, it is copyright infringement and it is against US and international copyright law.
That means that if someone buys your painting they do NOT have the right to “copy” it and reproduce it in any way, shape, or form. Ever watch some of the shows on Bravo? You’ll notice that many of the interior shots have the pictures on the walls blurred out? That’s because Bravo has not purchased the rights to reproduce those images on film.
It is of particular issue when someone uses intellectual property, without permission, for their commercial gain. Case in point:
Recently, a personal stylist that I know proudly sent me a link to her new website. To my horror she had sampled some of Wayne Thiebaud’s images and is using them as the central images on her home page. Wayne Thiebaud for those who don’t know is an American Art icon, equal in art history stature to Andy Warhol. He also happened to be my mentor. So here’s what I wrote.
“I did go to your new site. Very nice. But unless you have a licensing agreement in place, I would highly recommend that you remove Wayne Thiebaud’s images from your site. Otherwise you’re illegally infringing on his copyright.”
“Thank you for your comment on copyrights. I was told by a book publisher that if I credited Wayne Thiebaud’s images I’d be o.k. which I did in the web images page but I will look into it.”
“Look into it?” Actually she did NOT credit him and more importantly she’s stealing now! So I responded:
“Not to put too fine a point on this, but I can assure you that if you don’t have written permission from Wayne Thiebaud himself to use his intellectual property, you are in violation of federal and international copyright law.
And because you are using his images for your commercial gain you are putting yourself at particular risk, credit or no credit. If I picked up on this, others may also. And it doesn’t reflect well upon you. I also happen to know Wayne and I know that he wouldn’t appreciate it. Over 50% of my income comes from my intellectual property and I have successfully sued violators, twice.
Just my two cents, out of concern and from my professional perspective as an artist.
Still, she doesn’t get it, because she writes:
“I worked in an art gallery for several years and am very sensitive to artist’s rights. I will not be making any money on his art.“
So. I had to let her have it:
“Gallery representatives are probably the very least informed group about artist’s rights, and that’s probably because it doesn’t serve them. Unfortunately, they’re only second to many artists.
Since you don’t trust my advice I’d like to direct you to the US Copyright website. They are the ultimate authority in these matters.
In fact, you are “making money” on Thiebaud’s intellectual property because you are using it as part of your marketing, which is for your commercial gain.
When the New Yorker magazine uses his work for their cover to help sell magazines, or Alice Waters includes his art in her cookbook to help sell books, they must each pay a licensing fee and get his permission, in writing.
You have no more right to use Thiebaud‘s images without his permission as you would have the right to download music you haven’t licensed to use as part of your commercial jingle.
If violating the law is not a concern, your choice is still very unprofessional and therefore reflects poorly upon you.
And ultimately, I don’t think that this is the image you are trying to convey.”
Bottom line: you can’t “borrow” or take intellectual property, any property, from the owner unless and until you have their permission. And in the case of copyright you must secure permission in writing.
If you do, you have broken a federal copyright law by infringing on another individual’s property.
She has since removed the images from her website.