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edith 07-05-2002 04:59 PM

Celebrity Portraites Question
Hi everyone,
I have been browsing the net and came across several professional artists who display celebrity portraits for sale.

While they are very well done in a lot of cases no way can they claim to work from their own photographs

My question then is this; how can they display their work for sale, when even to display a piece of work copied from someone else's photographs or other materials - and not acknowledging the source - is a copyright infringement? Isn't it?

Or do i have it wrong? I have seen celeb pics on wc and have indeed displayed one i did of Elvis myself so am i in copyright infringement too?

How does one protect themselves from breeching copyright law if they wish to draw celebrity drawings and display them? Or can they not?

I am told that some people get photocopies from library books, magazines, film books, video shops, postcards etcetera and then copy them and sell them. In fact this practise is displayed on the net so how do they do it? Are they taking a huge risk?

This question may have been answered somewhere else but i would be pleased to hear any and all comments legally based if possible.
Many thanks for reading this. Take care and see you soon.

Chuck Levitin 07-05-2002 08:52 PM

Re: Celebrity Portraites Question

Originally posted by edith
My question then is this; how can they display their work for sale, when even to display a piece of work copied from someone else's photographs or other materials - and not acknowledging the source - is a copyright infringement? Isn't it?.

I see you are from England and I am not familiar with UK copyright laws. However, in the U.S., if you take a photograph of a famous person, you only own the copyright on your photograph...you do not own the rights to an image of the famous person. You cannot just make a photographic copy of the photo for commercial use without the copyright holder's permission. However, you can certainly use the photo as a reference for a painting in another medium without the photographer's consent.

In the U.S. there is another issue, as famous people have a "right to publicity". That is a right to exploit their image for commercial purposes.

edith 07-05-2002 08:58 PM

thanks for the reply.
so the way i read it is that i can make a drawing/painting from a photograph to sell or keep without photographers permission. is that correct? many thanks.

edenart 05-01-2003 04:26 PM

Is that true? I'm struggling with this same question! I wanted to do some portraits of musicians (in my own style not just a realistic copy of a photo). So, can I paint from a photo of Madonna and not worry about the original photographer's copyright of the image? Does it matter if the subject is living or dead? I've thought of doing some artists. David Hockney, Andy Warhol... Hmmm? I wish this wasn't so confusing. I don't want to do anything to violate any copyrights, but I do a lot of portraits and thought it might be fun to throw some celebs into the mix. Any help is appreciated!


mel-ink 05-01-2003 05:16 PM

A general rule of thumb I use for copyright is: use any photographs for reference you want, but you better make darn sure you can't tell which photographs you've used. Photographs are protected by copyright the same way artwork is, because photographs ARE artwork, too. You can draw a portrait of a famous person from photograph for learning purposes, but you cannot publish or sell it.

edenart 05-01-2003 05:35 PM

If you can't sell or publish paintings of famous people, then what's the deal with artists like Elizabeth Peyton who paints David Hockney all the time. She's famous now, but surely when she began, she didn't have his permission. And she definitely sells those works.

edenart 05-01-2003 06:24 PM

Okay. I just found an article which gave me the answer I'm looking for. Photographs may be used as source material if your painting transforms the final image so that the source photograph is no longer recognizable in a side-by-side comparison. And paintings may be created of famous people if the painting itself has artistic merits that go beyond a mere realistic representation of the person depicted. That's why Warhol's paintings are protected, but a realism portrait of Marilyn Monroe might not be.

The goal of the courts, it seems is to determine whether the artwork has a goal or artistic message apart from a mere representation of a certain celebrity. If the art is making a social commentary or is depicted in a non-realistic style then it is apparently protected. If it's just a painting of a realistic image of a celebrity, then it's possibly not protected because the courts may see the art as merely trying to capitalize on the celebrity of a certain individual without adding anything to the work.

Looks like portraits in my own "pop" style would be fine as long as I make sure they don't look just like a photo, which they don't because that's not what I do!

bjasmine 05-05-2003 02:37 AM

Celebrity portraits
"IANAL" (I am not a lawyer) ... but ... I am working on some celebrity portraits and I have studied the issue a lot over a couple years. There are numerous different laws that apply - copyright, trademark, privacy, and right of publicity - and the they differ from country to country and even state to state. Be VERY careful if you live in California. It does not matter if the celebrity is living or dead. Their estate has the right to their image.

Now as I understand it - you can do a painting for your own use, even for a "fan site" on the Internet without permission from the celebrity. I am not sure about for use in a portfolio or samples you mail to prospective clients (I am still working on the legal issues surrounding my own) - however I recently spoke to the lawyer for a famous (late) celebrity, and he said he'd have no problem with that. What he'd have a problem with and others would not - is impossible to say. I cannot find any case law on that.

See: http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/iclp/manship1.htm (fan sites)

As I understand the law, you may sell portraits and cartoons to magazines, for editorial illustrations, without permissions (though it may still be recommended to get those permissions if you can - but that is the magazine's responsibility, not yours - I would write that responsibility into my contracts too).

You DO need permission from the original photographer to do so, however. You may "get away" without getting that permission - by making the painting so different the photographer does not recognize their work. But there are also archives of portraits available where you can purchase such images (Associated Press Etc). Paparazzi will sell licenses to artists to use their photos. I would not assume all these other artists did not get permissions just because they don't credit photographers. That may well be the case - but do you want to take the risk? I know of one photographer getting a significant settlement when one of his photos was used without permission.

What you cannot do - under any circumstances is a poster, calendar, card, t-shirt etc with the image of a celebrity without their permission. You cannot use it in advertising (not even as parody).

These are all generalizations of course. There are many people flouting the law and getting away with it. I don't recommend that.

geckonia 05-22-2003 02:34 PM

Eden and bjasmine have the right idea here. I live in California where the laws are tight and have done a few realistic celeb portraits. The first thing I do is ask the photographer for permission. Then I ask the Estate of the Celeb for permission to display the work. If they approve it, I usually work out some sort of royalty for them. Their policy is fair I think. I get to sell the original and keep all the cash, but they get 10-15% of any print sales, etc. They like the idea of artists creating images of them! They even told me if I gave them a jpeg for their site they would wave the royalty fees.

Chuck Levitin 05-23-2003 12:07 AM

Well, you guys are getting closer to the truth. Under California law you may paint and sell an original work of fine art of a celebrity without permission. If the person is dead, then there is a specific exclusion under California Civil Code Sec. 990 (n)(3) and Sec. 3344.1 (a)(2). If the person is alive, you may also paint an original work of fine art as long as it is not done in a manner to imply commercial endorsement of something. That's from Sec. 3344(e). As long as you only paint originals, you can do as many as you want. If you start to make prints for sale, you may run afoul of the law.

California likes artists.

Brownie 06-10-2003 03:26 PM

Is every picture of her copyrighted, does anyone know? I'd like to do a painting of her for an auction...need to be done by Friday!!!

I am aware that the photogs own their works, but is there a time limit? I tend to realism, so one might guess the photo used as reference, though I do not do photo-realistic work. One would definitely know that it was a painting, not a photograph.

Just steer clear of the whole mess???

Or would anyone know of a web site where the photos of some famous people (who I would never be likely to meet) are NOT copyrighted?

Thanks for any help, Brownie
P.S. In Florida

mel-ink 06-10-2003 03:48 PM

Copyright is enforced for the life of the artist or photographer of the original work for their lifetime plus 75 years. All photographs of Marilyn Monroe are surely copyrighted and if you can recognize the photograph where it came from, I wouldn't do it. A lot of people violate the law anyway and a lot do not get caught, but why risk the cost and your own reputation for copying someone else's work? IMHO steer clear of the whole mess!!

Brownie 06-10-2003 07:00 PM

So, it would seem to me, even if one sketched from images on the TV, those images are also someone else's art product, so no vision is uncopyrighted, it would seem!
So sad, I'll never meet any of the stars, and yet this particular show that is coming up would lend itself to that tremendously, especially since the submitted paintings are suposed to represent a portrait group and relate to films! <sigh>
Ok, anyone have a famous movie quote that could accompany an Indian chief portrait, a cowboy portrait or a pensive, ballet type looking portrait that they'd care to share with someone who seldom goes to the movies? Brownie:rolleyes:

paintergirl 06-15-2003 10:38 AM

Excellent post and follow-up responses, I had been wondering myself about that till I stumbled upon it here. Thanks :D

ronnie56 10-05-2008 11:40 AM

Re: Celebrity Portraites Question
I read all this and am still wondering about Elizabeth Peyton and how she has based an entire body of work (and has gotten quite famous, and sells each painting for hundreds of thousands of dollars) on photos taken by others. She finds photos of people published in magazines like vogue and rolling stone that intrigue her, and paints her version of said photo. Are we to assume that she has gotten permission from each photographer, or is it that her work has just enough abstraction to qualify as uniquely hers even though the original image that it was based on was not hers? I too have seen photos that are incredibly beautiful and interesting -- why not just do what Elizabeth Peyton does?

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