Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Painting from Photos - Copyright Violation?

Recently, a professional photographer friend of mine complained that painters were painting from her photos and exhibiting and selling them. These were photos downloaded from her website and clipped from local newspapers. US copyright law specifically makes creating, exhibiting or selling such paintings illegal.

The law preserves for the creator of a photograph (or of a painting, for that matter) the right to both reproduce the work and to create other, derivative works from it. Period. (See http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html.) No one else has this right without explicit permission from the creator.

Although I'm a dedicated plein air painter, I admit I do paint from photos now and then. However, these photos are my own. Why don't I paint from photographs other people have taken? (Other than the legal issue, of course.) Photographs that aren't my own don't have enough meaning for me. They may be pretty, but I can't feel the moment. For me, my photos evoke a lot more than what shows in the photograph. They evoke a whole world of sensation: the warm wind on my cheek, the fragrance of the sea, the cries of the seagulls. My photos may evoke a sense of early-morning optimism, noon's calm repose, or the moodiness of a fin de siècle evening - a sense I may want to bring to my painting. It's hard to find this in someone else's photograph, and even if I do, I still don't know what colours the shadows really were. I'll remember the shadow colours when I see my photo.

If you know a painter who paints from someone else's photos (or paintings), explain to them that not only are they doing the creator of the work harm -- every illegal copy that gets sold is one less that the creator can sell and is thus bread stolen from his mouth -- but they are doing themselves a disservice.

But, as you know, I really don't like painting from photos, anyway. One becomes a better painter by painting from life, not from photos. I leave you with this recent piece I did of a lovely house in Wilson's Beach, here on Campobello Island.

"Wilson's Beach, Morning" 9x12, pastel, en plein air

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