A GUIDE FOR MEMBERS: COPYING, REFERENCES, AND ETHICS
This page is a guide to help you, not an official policy or legal advice.
In an online art community like ours where artists gather and get inspired by one another, there are often many questions around the subject of using reference material to create artwork on our website. This guide is intended to help assist our members in making the right decisions when using reference material to inspire their work. This document is intended as a guide only - our official policy on copyright issues is covered in both our Terms & Conditions and our Copyright Policy.
Newbies guide to copyright
Did you know there are many things to consider before you just go copying someone else's work? We recommend you learn about Copyright.
If you are here because you are new to copyright issues or want to learn more, then first let's help you understand what Copyright is. Since we're not legal advisers, the best way for us to help you is to provide you with material to get educated - so here it is:
- US Copyright Office General Questions: A quick FAQ to Copyright. Not in the US? Read the last section of this link titled "Is my copyright good in other countries?"
- A guide to Fair Use: Fair use is a copyright principle based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials, but we recommend you only ever consider attempring Fair Use if you are more than confident in doing so or seek legal advice.
- The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA): Our copyright policy was created in accordance with the DMCA. As a provider of an internet service, we have laws to abide by also.
So, tell me simply, can I use reference material to create artwork on RateMyDrawings?
Consider whether you feel it is OK to use reference material when you create artwork, but make sure you are not breaking any Copyright laws. The easiest way to be safe, is to only use reference material that is not copyright protected such as material you own.
Two topics come up when this topic is often discussed - Ethics and Legal issues. We will discuss each of these seperately.
In the art world, you will gain the most respect and admiration from fellow artists when your work is original. Some people hold less respect for artists whose art is "traced" or "copied" from reference material. Ethically, you may find it more rewarding to use reference material for part-inspiration only. Since the creation of art is often about studying shapes, light, color, texture, form, etc. and reference material is needed for this, then one way to approach reference material is to use it to study these topics, but make your inspiration and composition come from your own imagination. However, many artists find that using reference material is a very important part of the learning process to learn tools and technique. As an artist, it is up to you to decide where you stand ethically and when you should and should not use reference material. In either case it is most important that you make sure you are also legally doing the right thing (keep reading).
Good news - the answer is Yes, you can use reference material legally! What is most important, is that the reference material you are using is not protected by any Copyright laws. If you do use reference material, it is advised to put a link to the source images out of respect to the original content owners.
Some of the easier ways to avoid using Copyright protected reference materials are:
- Use your own work as reference material. If you created the reference artwork/image then it's highly likely you own the copyright. If you are using photos that you took, just be sure any images do not contain copyright protected material (E.g. you can't take a photo of a Copyright protected painting and use that).
- Use multiple copyright free reference images so that when people view the originals and your final work, they are not recognized as being similar.
- Use real-life reference objects like a piece of fruit on your desk, a scene outside your window, an art mannequin, or a mirror for a self portrait.
- Start a collection of reference material that you are sure is not copyright protected. There are many resources on the web to find images that are not copyright protected (See "Sources for reference material" below).
If you are well educated on Copyright and confident on these issues, you can also:
- Look out for reference material that has been assigned appropriate licenses under Creative Commons
- Create agreements with your trusted friends about sharing your reference material with one another. Be sure to seek legal advice as necessary.
Can I use drawings from RateMyDrawings as reference material?
Drawings on RateMyDrawings, just like any other reference material, are subject to Copyright laws. You should first seek express permission from the artist. In the future we may implement the ability for members to apply Creative Commons licenses to their drawings to create a more open community.
Sources for reference material
There are many resources on the web to find reference images to use for inspiration in your drawings. You should always read the terms and conditions of each of these websites and each image on these websites to ensure you fully understand how you can use these images. Some of these websites may require you link back to them.