View Full Version : Painting Photos

03-03-2003, 07:39 PM
I just read somewhere in a thread or message (I really have to learn how to use this site better) that permission was given to use a photo as a reference. Can anyone tell me if it is illegal to paint photo's without permission? I've been painting for a long time but no nothing about laws, although I do know not to copy someone else's painting, but I thought photo's were OK. I've been using the "Webshots" website for reference photos, really a great place to find some. I do have books, but the site has more to choose and the photos fill the whole monitor screen. I hope this has been OK for me to do. Anyone know if it is?

Ralph Kramden to Alice Kramden: "You know Alice, you never back me up whenever I try something new. John D Rockefeller had Mrs. Rockefeller behind him, George Washington had Martha behind him, Thomas Edison had Mrs. Edison behind him, why can't YOU stand behind me?"
Alice To Ralph: "Because there's no room back there!"

03-03-2003, 10:14 PM
This is a great question. I have been using webshots also and have found many wonderful photos on the internet that I have painted from. I feel its okay for me, because I am not at the point where I am trying to sell my work, I am just learning and I might give these to people for gifts but I think if I were to sell the painting, I would try to get permission from the photographer. I don't know the legalities of this though, and would great appreciate an answer also.


03-03-2003, 10:32 PM
Louie and Shari, artist have for ages been copying others work as a means of learning. Indeed it was, an still is, in many museums, an accepted practice to copy the works of the masters. You just may not copy them in actual size. Of course, you also have to have permission. Do not worry about it as long as you do not try to sell them. That is unless, you so adopt the work to your own style that they can not say you copied from them.

Danny E Haislet

03-03-2003, 11:54 PM
Hi Shari and Danny,
I was wondering Danny, if you are referring to art in regards to paintings, or photographs, which what my question is about, painting from a photo, do I need permission from the photographer. I have had the impression that this was OK, but copying actual artwork was not legal.

Isn't that a great site Shari? Webshots has thousands of pics, and all varieties. Anyway, I'm not clear on your response Danny, but I do appreciate your taking the time.

03-04-2003, 12:43 AM
I'm not a lawyer. I can barely spell lawyer. However, I can give my interpretation of copyright law in general and webshots in particular. It's a little long, but I believe it's accurate.

Not only is it illegal to sell paintings copied from copyrighted pictures, it is illegal to show them (in a gallery, and if the photographer were particularly protective, somewhere like here). It is not illegal for purposes like practicing as long as they are not displayed in any means of promoting them as original works of art, much the same way as it is illegal for me to take a picture of a painting in a museum and sell the photograph without written permission of the museum, or if possible, the painter.

So the professional grade photographs in the main section of webshots should certainly be out of your list of reference images. You will see the copyright notice under most of them. This is outlined in Question #6 in the 'Terms of Use' link at the bottom of the Webshots site.

That being said, I believe you could probably find tons of images in the 'Community' section to use openly, up to a point. Since these are individual's pictures, I can't imagine people having a problem with you using and copying them AS LONG as you ask them (especially if you are selling or displaying them). I would tend to believe (but that doesn't mean I assume) that the nice folks on the community boards are average Joe's and Jane's like us and might even get a kick out of it. If you want to sell and EXACT copy of it, you might want to cover yer butt anyway with written permission from the owner in case it comes back to bite you later. I guess you'd have to contact them through a guestbook or something, since there doesn't appear to be anyway to email them directly.

Finally, you might want to try this approach with some of our friends over in the photography forum. At least beg them to stick pictures in the reference library, like people are for this fantastic swan picture http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=92304

- Greg

03-04-2003, 12:52 AM
This is great information, very enlightening, I didn't know some of this. I have definitely been copying some copyrighted photos, but I knew I was just practicing with them, I can't really imagine selling anything at this point. Its good to know about webshots though, I have found such great pics there. There is also a guy on the internet named Dan Heller, who does nice photos from all over the world. This recent one I posted, of Hanalei Bay, was taken by a guy who lives in Kauai, but I think I will contact him and show him the painting. Fortunately, my husband is a great photographer, so I plan on mostly doing his photos. Thanks for the info.


03-04-2003, 01:16 AM
Thanks for that bit of information, I've got a few painted, and one I'm finishing, so I'm going to try and get in touch with those photographers. What a bummer! I do have reference books I bought, but haven't looked in those, assuming that I can paint them and sell them as well, I guess I need to look at those too to make sure? I will do as you suggested though, go to the photographers forum and ask. Well, thanks again. Alan and...LouieTheCat!

03-04-2003, 04:19 AM
Have you visited WetCanvas's own Reference Image Library? Plenty of material there which can be copied freely: http://www.wetcanvas.com/reflib.php

03-04-2003, 05:13 AM
There are quite a few threads in the General Business forum here at WC. Have a look - there's tons of info there.
My research has come up with the same conclusions as Greg just wrote.
In short - if you want to sell - use your own photos or work from life. If you want to use photos ( I do that a lot) either make sure you have written agreement with the photographer (an amateur or pro - doesn't matter. All photos are copyrighted) or, and here's where the law goes a bit blurry - do not copy the photo precisely. There is such a thing as a derivative work- which is when the photo functioned as a reference, as a starting point, but when you have NOT exactly copied it. You have created a NEW work of art. Then there is no copyright infringement. But this is a shady side of the law, and most lawyers cannot tell you themselves when a work of art is a derivative work and when it is a copy.

Don't worry too much about it - just create great art of your own.


03-04-2003, 06:08 AM

Read that.

03-04-2003, 04:49 PM
I had similiar questions and problems a little while back of usage of photos .....

this is what I was told ........ any image that is uploaded into WC's reference libraries or albums are for the full free use of any and all WC's members to use freely in any which way they wish .... and for any sales they should make from that work.
(so this is a pretty safe bet for working from photos) .... or of course your own :)

.... as for working from photos found on any other site .... depends on how you are working from them .... if its just for educational/practise (educational fair use law) and not to make any monies from them...... there is a law which is as follows (quoted from another thread and not by me :)) :

..... As someone who's worked for attorneys specializing in such things, trust me, or don't.
"Publishing" works on the internet is allowed by international law as long as the previously posted guidelines are observed. For those situations where someone is posting a picture, (and not for an educational purpose such as this thread), the original source of the photo must be given copyright ownership credit. That is all.
It's called Source citing, and is allowed as long as the image is not being sold or used in a commercial manner. I can post pictures of celebrities I like on my site without fear as long as I am not involved in commercial ventures using those pictures. Otherwise, there would not be any fan sites for anything on the internet.

.. there is a number of threads on WC with further information on these types of questions

hope this helps somewhat

03-04-2003, 07:54 PM
What an overwhelming response to the question I posted, very informative, and a lot more to it than I thought. I am going to the WC REF Library and look around in there. Thanks to all of you for your help. Alan and LouieTheCat!

03-05-2003, 12:29 PM
Just one more thing to add though this has been well covered I think.

As a photographer for over 25 years, I'm very protective of my photographs and anyone copying them to paint. I've taken great pains to set up my shots or crop them. To find them for sale anywhere in duplication or as a painting would be very upsetting.

When new to painting I found a photograph in the newspaper that I wanted to copy into a painting. I figured from black & white to color wouldn't be a problem - but it was. This piece came out nice and although I wanted to sell it, it was impossible.

Do I still draw and paint from photographs? Only in my sketch books.

By the way - great question!!!!


03-05-2003, 12:41 PM
It certainly seems a minefield, having just discovered the WC image library i'll think i'll stick to that... should keep me busy for a while.

03-05-2003, 09:05 PM
As to copying the old Masters. Thought I had read somewhere that it was OK if the artist had been dead for 100 years. I have done such paintings. I used the photos in art books for my reference. I have changed parts of them. Mostly the faces. And of course I worked in much smaller sizes. I showed 2 of them at a beginners art show - no one in charge said that I couldn't. I am putting up a web site and plan to show them there as examples of my practice work.

Are you saying that I cannot do that? :confused:

Who will sue me if I do?

I have read that for some artists copying the paintings of old masters was big business and that they got as much as $10,000 for them. They just had to be sure that they were a different size than the original.

03-06-2003, 03:26 PM
Well, paintings by artists that are dead for 70 years (not 100) fall out of the copyright issue. Marcel Duchamp's 'Mona Lisa' is a classic example of how this was not infringement.

So you shouldn't have any problems. The only infringement possible under these circumstances is that if the museum or whatever doesn't allow photographs and can claim that your work is a copy of thier photographs (usually to protect postcard sales and the sort). The only places I've heard that you can't take photographs are inside the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, although I've never been to either and can't verify that claim.

In fact, there were some students at the Louvre when I was there drawing directly from a painting. You have to have brass ones to do that! I have to stop drawing the second someone walks into the room... imagine sitting 30 feet away from the greatest paintings ever and attempting to copy them in public!~!

- Greg