Copying another artist’s work into a New Medium can violate copyright 2

The idea behind a piece of artwork is not protected by copyright.  However, a near replica of an artist’s work in different medium can be a copyright violation if the new work closely copies a copyright protected work.  What this means is that being inspired by an idea of another contemporary artist to recreate your own artwork from scratch is…100% legit.  For example, if a famous photograph of the pyramids inspires you to fly to Egypt and try to recreate the exact same photo to display and sell in a gallery… there is no copyright violation.  However, it is different if you use a copy of a famous photograph of a pyramid to paint a replica of the photograph.  Painting a copy of a photograph changes the medium of the artwork, but it can often still be a copyright violation of the copied work.

Here are a few examples of instances when copying someone else’s artwork into a new medium could be a copyright violation of the original work:

  • Photographing a sculpture… for use on a postage stamp
  • Making a painting of another artist’s photograph… to display in a gallery show
  • Making a campaign poster out of another artist’s photograph… to sell and raise money
  • Making a sculpture of another artist’s photograph of a sad kid in a costume… to display and sell
  • Recreating another artist’s painting in peanut butter and jelly and photographing the PB&J  rendition… to display and sell

Obviously, there are many unique facts and factors to consider in each case… and many of these types of challenges settle before a court issues a final ruling.  However by the time the parties begin negotiating a settlement, the stakes are higher and the alleged infringer generally ends up paying much more than it would have cost to secure a license at the outset.

The solution is to get a license from the original artist to make a derivative work.  (Trying to deny or cover-up your source material is often unsuccessful and can cost a lot more $$ in the end.)

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

For personalized legal services you are welcome to contact me at vk@kasterlegal.com.

Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1992)( The infringers fair use defense was denied); Gaylord v. United States, 595 F.3d 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2010); Fairey v Associated Press; alleged infringement between A.Brown and littlewhitehead; alleged infringement between Burdeny and Leong; NY Times article 9/28/11, questioning originality of Dylan paintings at the Gagosian; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s