Copyright Laws and Derivative Work

Gwenn Seemel, through her own blog writing, has been challenging me to think about copyrights and why I make art.

Making art, or expanding this to “making things up”, being creative in general, is just part of who I am.

I don’t make art for money.  I think if I did I would be frozen, uncreative, stuck.  I am open to making money off my artwork, however.  I would love to be a full-time artist.  I study Gwenn and another artist I went to high school with, Robyn Wethe Altman, to see how they market their art, as both work full-time as artists, and part of this is making good art, and another is good marketing.  Their current state of employment is within my grasp, I believe.  My goal in 2014 is to work full time in my creative fields.

Why do I “copyright?”  I do it for one reason only; if a card company stole my image and made a product with it I would want the profit.  I recently read an article by an artist whose work was stolen by a company that makes Christmas ornaments, and they made a small fortune off her work, and now she has the ability to make that money back.  That type of thievery would make me mad.  I don’t make art for the money, but I do want the right to make money off my own artwork, and if I want to give my artwork away, then it is up to me to do this.  It is a matter of morality.

But Gwenn brings up a different aspect of copyright and here we totally agree.  I was horrified when Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster was deemed stolen.  Shepard Fairey used an AP photo by Mannie Garcia as a model for the poster shown below, but I believe the poster was a new piece.  Is it considered Garcia’s because it was manipulated on a computer, not sketched from the photo?  Some people sketch from a photo perfectly.  If one sketched a perfect image from the photo and manipulated that would it still be a copyright infringement?  And what about people who make collage art: images from Vogue and Elle and Time magazine become part of a new piece of art?  Where does copyright end, especially with public figures?

This makes the derivative aspect of the copyright laws problematic.

Barack Obama Poster from Wikipedia article.

Barack Obama Poster taken from Wikipedia article as per the agreements stated in copyright use area.

I would not go after a fellow artist who was inspired by my work and “stole” some aspect of it.  I have been influenced by several artists, and when I was starting sketched some of their work, sitting in museums.  More than that, some artists I stared at over and over, and their images are burned into my soul.  I didn’t knowingly make any aspect of another’s work it into my own, but I have never gone back and looked at all my artwork to see if I “stole” some aspect of their work.

I would be honored to influence another artist.  I would be thrilled to have a budding artist copy my techniques, as I did with Hockney and Bengston and Tanning.



My images/blog posts can be reposted as long there is a link back to zenkatwrites. All images  ©D.Katie Powell (there is that pesky copyright).  Permission must be granted to use my images and they must be linked to


About dkatiepowellart

hollywood baby turned beach gurl turned steel&glass city gurl turned cowgurl turned herb gurl turned green city gurl. . . artist writer photographer. . . cat lover but misses our big dogs, gone to heaven. . . buddhist and interested in the study of spiritual traditions. . . foodie, organic, lover of all things mik, partner in conservation business mpfconservation, consummate blogger, making a dream happen, insomniac who is either reading buddhist teachings or not-so-bloody mysteries or autobio journal thangs early in the morning when i can't sleep
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8 Responses to Copyright Laws and Derivative Work

  1. susanissima says:

    Beautiful written, important piece of writing, Katie. As artists, musicians, and writers, we’re all influenced by what we’ve experienced through our senses, often unconsciously, sometimes via synthesis. But blatant reproduction without permission is another issue. That has nothing to do with influence. It’s pure, uncreative thievery. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the topic.

  2. susanissima says:

    Thanks, Katie. I will find the link and check it out.

  3. Gwenn says:

    Two things to consider:

    1) If you want to allow your art to be remixed, you could use Creative Commons to control how your work is consumed. This video is the best one out there explaining how Creative Commons works:

    2) Just because I would refuse to use a deeply flawed law to pursue a company that was profiting from my images doesn’t mean I would let them get away with it either! And anyway, the surest way to get a company to support creatives is not the law. It’s a little thing called social currency! For more about that, there’s this article of mine:

    Bon courage in your uncopyrighting explorations!

    • zenkatwrites says:

      I figured that you would step in if someone truly was doing a number with your work; but the writing you have done on this over and over has really made me think about it. Social currency is a good tool, and I enjoyed that article, which also made me think. Hell, I love all your video blog (vlogs?). Thank you for the vimeo reference — I will watch it. In our conservation business I am happy to allow wiki to use images of ours, furthering education.

  4. zenkatwrites says:

    Gwenn Seemel continues to challenge. I love her for this. In another blogpost she recommends a book and a film, and the book is free (as it should be, right?):

    Her blogpost is here:

    Best, Kate

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