Hi friends! Happy Monday! Today I wanted to share a few things about copyright, as many of you have been asking me about certain things regarding what we as artists can do, what we can’t do, and where things fall on the sometimes confusing spectrum of copyright issues. So I’ve compiled some common questions into this post to hopefully help you out if you’re new to selling your art and are wondering what’s what in the world of copyright.
Do I Have A Copyright?
This is the most important first question, and that is: do I own the rights to my work? The simple answer is yes! Any intellectual creation is by default the copyright of the creator. This means that if you draw a picture, that image is yours and you own the rights to use it however you want.
What If I Sell My Art?
This is the next logical question. If you sell your original drawing, what happens? Well, you may have sold the image, but the rights to the image stay with you. This means that if someone buys your original drawing, they simply own the drawing. They don’t own the actual rights to the image. So this means that they cannot use your image to create prints and then sell those prints. They own the artwork they purchased, that’s it. (They can choose to sell their drawing to someone else like any other possession, but they cannot create additional products using that image to sell. Do you see the difference?)
That right stays with you. So you can sell your original drawing, and still continue to sell prints of it, or stickers,mugs, whatever you’ve designed using your image.
Whenever I sell an original artwork, I include a certificate that states that the item the buyer has is in fact the original artwork and not a print or reproduction. I also include a statement that says that the purchase of the original art does not transfer the rights to the image, and all copyrights remain with the artist.
What if I License My Art?
If you’ve licensed your art, for example, selling a few designs to someone who creates notepads and has paid you to use your designs on a new set of notepads, you still remain the owner of the rights to your designs. The only exception to this is if you’ve actually signed the rights of the image over to the other party, or if you enter into an exclusivity agreement. An example of an exclusivity agreement would be agreeing that you will not make any prints or other products with your designs for a certain amount of time to allow the creator of the notepads to have exclusive designs by you for a period of time.
If you decide to sell the entire rights of the image to the other party, this is the only situation in which you cannot make any other products with your image, as the other party has the rights to do whatever they want with your image. Be very careful when making deals with companies for your work. I personally never sign over the rights to any of my images. I do, however, enter into periods of exclusivity, as I believe it’s more of a win-win situation for anyone who wants to have exclusive prints/products from you.
Can I Make a Painting From a Photo?
This is a really common question. Using a reference image is a great way to make a painting, but you have to be careful about the picture you use. Like artists, photographers are entitled to their own copyrights over their images. So you can’t just find a picture on the internet and paint it exactly as you see it. That picture belongs to someone, and they may not want it to be used in creating other artworks.
A general rule is that you need to have permission from the original photographer to use the image. This could be having direct contact with the photographer, or it could mean using photos that have a license attatched to them.
Photos with a Creative Commons license are allowed to be used as reference materials within other creative works, as long at the untouched photo itself is not redistrubuted. Sometimes you have to pay to use images like this, like those on popular royalty-free websites like Shutterstock.
But other times they are free! I personally love the website MorgueFile, which provides images that can be used to create other intellectual materials, so long as the original image is not resold. It’s free, and there’s a pretty good selection on there.
There are other sites like this on the web, just do a search for free royalty free images, and see what you can find. Read the fine print for each photo, however, as some photographers require attribution, in which you have to list them as your reference source and link back to their profile/website. Others require no attribution, it’s entirely an individual situation.
What if I Use Scrapbook Paper/Stamps/Clip Art in my Artworks?
Some sellers that state their items are for personal use only will have an upgrade option to purchase a commercial license to their work, which will then allow you to use it to create items you intend on selling.
Can I Sell My Fanart?
This question is a can of worms. This is a huge grey area. Well, not really a grey area, but more like a “it’s illegal but people do it anyway” kind of area. The general rule is that you cannot recreate the intellectual property of others without their permission, and most characters are the intellectual property of the studio/artist/company that created the movie/video game/etc. that the character is from. So, no, without the permission of the company/artist, selling fanart isn’t allowed.
So anyone selling keychains, posters, t-shirts, etc. of Pokemon, Batman, Disney Princesses, and the like are technically illegal. The loophole, if you want to call it that, is that SO MANY people do it, the chances of you getting caught are pretty minimal. But just be aware they if you want to go this route, it is a risk. Just make sure you’re making an informed decision. In addition, many fine art/crafting shows will state in their entry rules that all items you bring to sell must be original. (This is obviously different for comic/anime conventions, who are much more open to it, but even then many of them will have a rule like at least 30% of your art must be original).
I personally choose to not sell fanart, as it’s just a big grey area I don’t want to be in.
Can I Sell a Painting I Made With Your “Paint With Me” Projects?
This is a question I’m starting to be asked more and more, and I think it may be in part to this post I wrote about a recent copyright issue I had with a company. So I’m going to answer it here.
In short, YES! I designed my “Paint With Me” projects to be free painting lessons that anyone can do. My whole goal with them is to show you that you can create a painting from start to finish regardless of your skill or confidence level. You are the one creating the painting, and I totally don’t mind if you decide to sell your painting after, make prints of it, or create any other products from it that you want to sell.
My problem arises with the act of teaching HOW to paint the painting. What I’m selling with the Paint With Me paintings is the creation process of how to paint that painting (and I’m selling it for $0). So in order to infringe on my copyrights, you would have to be creating your own tutorial on how to paint that exact painting. See the difference? You can sell the painting, you can’t sell how to CREATE the painting, because that’s what I’m “selling” in this case.
Leave me a comment below if this has helped you, and till next time, keep creating!