Friday 21 May 2010

Going Pro: thoughts on copyright

[Cross-posted on Art Evolved]

In the past few posts of Going Pro, we've looked a lot at copyright. Again, a lot of people have opinions, but it's important to see what the legal definitions -and what steps you can take to protect your creations- really entail.

Today though, I want to propose a question.

Suppose you post a nifty image of a prehistoric critter online. It's awesome, you're proud, people give you kudos. You put it under a Creative Commons Licence, the most restrictive one that says your image a) must be attributed to you, b) cannot be altered, c) others cannot profit from it, and otherwise, it's okay to post and share.

1. Then someone copies it. Another blogger. Does their own riff. Are you okay with that?

2. What if they're more famous than you, getting lots of illustration gigs, but they notice it, do their own version, and give you a nod for your cool idea. Still excited, feeling the attention?

3. What if your painting happens to hit the zeitgeist and goes all viral all over the interwebs. Everyone is sharing it. There's a day on Facebook where all the users switch to you image. But you haven't made a dime. What do you do?

We're in interesting territory. Personally, I don't believe overly restricting images (insanely huge watermarks, disabling right-clicking) are helpful to make a successful career anymore. But neither is completely open sharing.

Consider this:
It makes a strong case about question number 3, doesn't it? But how do you capitalize on that image going viral? How does it put food on the table?

I suggest it's how you parlay that viral dinosaur image into getting new contracts.

As for questions number 1 and 2, consider the post-modern, remixed, mash-up, variant-cover culture we live in. Think an Indiana Jones video game is fun? What about Indiana Jones Lego! Like Batman? Sharks? Lightsabers? Ta-da! (artist here) Authoring mash-ups and riffing on others' work is an integral part of pop culture.

Painting gets started at about the 4 minute mark in the video above.
[h/t to Boing Boing, again]

In the past, I've sometimes been the dissenting voice here at Art Evolved about all those posts showing past-art about upcoming themed galleries. I dislike them because sometimes attribution to the artwork cannot be easily found - though yes, as Peter and Craig have pointed out to me, sometimes we attribute an "orphan image" after the post goes up when a reader identifies it.

I'm uncomfortable with those posts because in a world of remixes and fun Photoshopped images, attribution and authorship can sometimes be your only coins to bank on. Literally.

Everyone has different comfort zones. Where do you feel comfortable with your images on questions 1-3 above?

- - - - - - - - Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***


DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lisa @ Perfectly Peculiar said...

wow, interesting & thought provoking questions ...

i bought a couple paintings once from an artist who i though surely had to be entirely "original" ... her work seemed so unique, to me ... then i found the artist she was inspired by ... very similar work ... of course the other artist was surely inspired by someone as well and his work was derivative too ... it's true, everyone takes something from someone else, it's just a matter of degree ...

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey Lisa!

I don't know though: I do think there's a point when the artwork passes the point of "inspired" and becomes a rip-off.

Often, artists will put "Warrior -after Frazetta" or something like that in the title to let you know it's their riff on things.

You're right that all artists are the sum of their past influences. But in my opinion, true originality should still be sought even if never fully found.

(To other Flying Trilobite readers: make sure to check out Lisa Viger's excellent tips on stretching canvas at Perfectly Peculiar!)

Irradiatus said...

It's fitting to me that you posted this - as I was just thinking to myself the other day after looking at some of your work, "you know - it'd probably be cool to make a 3D model of a flying trilobyte for Glendon." ;)

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey Irradiatus! Well, as I discovered -and had to accept after the shock wore off- winged trilobites are not my sole original invention. I've been painting and drawing them for maybe about 15-16 years, and thought them all my own precious idea, but so have some other folks, notably in the web comic Girl Genius (the Foglios and I have exchanged emails, and we're cool).

Craig Dylke of Traumador and Art Evolved did some nice 3D ones a couple of years ago.

Have at it!

Anonymous said...

This is a slippery slope. The idea of losing authorship because it's a "romantic notion" is a bit bunk to me.
While a viral image might mean more contacts, this does no good if no one wants to pay.
It's hard enough to get people to pay for art, it's not a respected vocation as 'anyone' can make a picture.
There's an expectation that music, movies and images are now 'free', which neglects that an artist has poured their work, effort and experience into it... for what? The romantic notion that artist must be poor?
Oh hi, I'm Matt, that was a bit ranty wasn't it.
Comes from working in Animation, where this copyright stuff does some serious damage for any reasonable sized studio who might actually want to pay their staff fair wages...

Glendon Mellow said...

Hey Matt, thanks for your comments.

I don't disagree with anything you've said. Fair wages are incredibly tough to achieve in freelance illustration as well. There's always a feeling people can find someone cheaper.

One of the benefits of having a blog, is the personal connection. I don't do it in a mercenary way -I'm amazed by the interesting people I meet online- but the personal connection helps. People usually don't want "an artist" to make something for them, they want me personally. So that's good for business.

We're in uncharted territory. Technology and the way people use it have altered things so quickly, markets are shifting in how they operate.

BTW, I love your Unhappy Tree Friends.

Anonymous said...

Nice to meet you Glendon,
I wrote a bit of a long rant which I wont post, but I can summarise it thus: people will generally only pay if they have no other option.
Saying that, really like how art can be viewed by the multitudes online, it's great.
Communicating with artists all over the world and seeing their work is inspiring, but the means of distribution need to offer a degree of control or reward for the author.

I reckon 'Life as a Trilobite' and 'Unhappy Tree Friends' may have been siblings at some point! Or at least taken the same classes at Creepy School!


Glendon Mellow said...

Great to meet you too! (Added to my Reader).

You're absolutely right: there needs to be rewards or else art becomes a career for part-time amateurs and not full-time professionals.

Anonymous said...

I'd better post something soon then! ;-)

Post a Comment

Posts over 14 days old have their comments held in moderation - I've been getting an unusual amount of spam for a guy who paints trilobites. I'll release it lickety-split though.

Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Glendon Mellow. All rights reserved. See Creative Commons Licence above in the sidebar for details.
Share |