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Paul Talbot-Greaves ©2017

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© Copyright law - are you aware?

Did you know that original artworks are automatically copyrighted?

Artists, photographers, designers, writers, musicians, in fact any creatives who create innovative and original work are protected by copyright law. In the UK this is the Copyright designs and patents act 1988. With the growth of the internet, copyright has become a huge issue for creative innovators.

Copyright designs and patents act 1988 is the UK law protecting artists, musicians and creatives from how their work is used. Any act of copying is infringing the law, even if you make changes. If evidence can be produced to show that you have copied a painting you are likely to be in breach of copyright law. Whilst huge social media and search engine companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest have a responsibility for upholding copyright, they generally pass this to the unsuspecting user. Copying without permission is against the law, but I’d also like to draw your attention to the moral issues around copying that many people just aren’t aware of.

Moral issues

Paintings that are displayed online are generally done so as examples of an artist’s work, much the same as you might see a different product such as a vacuum cleaner or a car. Here is where the issues of copyright become greyed. You wouldn’t set about making a replica copy of a vacuum cleaner because you’re automatically aware that the product design is protected by law, but people DO copy artwork and claim it as their own. If you do copy someone’s painting, you may have painted your version of it, but the concept, design, arrangement, colour scheme and composition belong to the creator, just as the vacuum cleaner design belongs to the manufacturer. A minor change does not exonerate you from breaching copyright if it can be proven that there are strong similarities to the originator’s work.  Admire paintings and learn from them, but please do not copy them unless you have express permission to do so. Copying an artist’s work is a form of theft. Would you pick up a discarded document off the street, extract the confidential information and pretend to be that person? Morally, there really is no difference between this and copying.

Copying to learn or copying to sell?

Whilst copying should be avoided, there may be legitimate reason to copy something in your own private space, for example to learn how to paint a technique or effect. If you copy in this way, try to learn only the technique and strive to express it in your own way. Far too often the artist’s mistake is to think the only way to paint the effect is to copy the style of the originator. Copied work for learning purposes should remain in your own private folio, not displayed and definitely not sold as your own idea. Whenever I share a painting or a photograph in a tuition session, the intention is aimed towards learning, for a group to mutually share a technique or a process. But so many people tell me they sold the painting at their local exhibition. That’s a bit like saying to a friend - ‘hey that coat you kindly lent me - I sold it’.

Personally I would like to encourage students to consider these moral issues as well as copyright law. Whilst paintings and photographs are used in courses, the purpose for this are to encourage learning. You may be thrilled with your results but passing the work off as your own and selling it (and many people do!) is not only breaching copyright law, it is also morally wrong. To progress as individuals we must strive to be just that - individual. If you are considering using or copying another’s work, whether it be from a painting or a photograph, you should always ask their permission first. Unfortunately the growth of the internet means the free usage, printing, modification and copying of images is so prolific that the copyright act has been watered down to less than a passing thought.

I hope you found this interesting and informative.

For more information regarding copyright law go to :