What does this have to do with art quilts? Well I think the copyright issues that art quilters face are very similar. When I started making what I thought were "art" quilts about 12 years ago, I was woefully ignorant of copyright issues. Many of us were making quilts out of art or photos we found on greeting cards, on the internet, in magazines, etc. I admit I also violated copyright. Here is the most obvious violation. I purchased a greeting card called "Friendship", which featured two very heavy women leading each other through a lake. I traced the design onto a transparency film, enlarged it and made this quilt:
I named it "Clarissa and Jennifer", after the two hosts of the British cooking show "Two Fat Ladies". Only a couple of years later I started learning more about copyright, and also realized that this work is not an art quilt. It might be a contemporary quilt (in that it doesn't look like a traditional quilt, but it is a copy of another art work, so in my books it isn't art). The right thing to do would have been to contact the artist and ask her permission to recreate her art work in fabric, and then credit her on the label and on my website. If the artist had said no, I would have had to abandon the idea. The image was not mine to take.
I have noticed in the last couple of years that quilters are becoming very savvy about copyright issues. Most shows now typically require quilters to credit the pattern designer, the teacher (if the piece was created in a class), the photographer (if a photo was used), the machine or hand quilters (if someone else quilted the work). Today I taught my two-day "In Full Bloom" class where students bring a floral photograph and design their own quilt. I had advised the class ahead of time that they must obtain copyright permission from the photographer if they were using a photo taken by someone else. We had a great discussion on copyright today, and I was really pleased to see such a savvy group of quilters who were well-versed in copyright.
I now use the quilt above (in which I violated copyright) as an educational tool during my lectures. Many times people in my audience are aghast that one cannot just take a photo off the internet or a greeting card and do what they want with it. I start hearing the "buts". In fact, I once taught a class where everyone in the class argued with me about copyright except for one person. That one person happened to have a husband who is a photographer. As a professional photographer, and an artist, when he puts his portfolio out on the internet to get business, he does not appreciate people just "taking" his work without asking and without credit. Looks a lot different when you are on the other side of the issue, doesn't it? We can all imagine how we would feel if someone copied our original quilt and didn't even give us credit, not to mention didn't even ask us.
I hear a lot of misconceptions out there about copyright, but it is most surprising when I find these misconceptions circulating among artists and fibre artists, who I don't think seem to be getting the same kind of education about copyright as quilters. Because galleries don't expect artists to be copying their work from someone else, they often don't even have a mechanism for the artist to even give credit to whoever or whatever they copied.
Here are some of the excuses and misinformation I often hear about copyright:
1) If I change mediums it is OK. In other words, if I copy someone's painting into fabric, there is no copyright violation. WRONG The right thing to do is to contact the artist for permission. If permission is not granted, you can't create the work. There are certain artworks that are now in the public domain if the artist has been dead for more than a specified number of years (I have forgotten the number now but it isn't important to me because I don't base my work on these works).
2) If the piece is made for my own use, and I never show or sell the work I've copied, there is no copyright violation. WRONG AGAIN. It is true that if no one ever sees your work, you are not in danger of being sued, but what I often see is that if the work turns out really well, the maker wants to show and/or sell it. Then it is too late to get copyright permission. What if the photographer says no? I spoke with an intellectual property lawyer (who is also a quilter) and she told me that some lawyers might interpret "personal use" to still be a violation. What concerns me now is that if I don't warn students about copyright and they use a photo without permission, then decide to enter their piece in a show, and credit me as the teacher, if there is any fall-out, I could be implicated as well.
3) It is OK if I only copy a certain percentage of someone else's artwork/photo. Wrong again. There should not be issues if you are only using the photo as a jumping off point, where the end piece doesn't look anything like the photo (i.e. you use the colours, or perhaps one shape but run in a new direction with it). But actually copying a piece and changing only some of it, or copying the piece in other colours is still a violation.
4) In Art School, students copy the Master's works. TRUE, and I've done this in art classes BUT these are PRACTICE pieces to learn the methods, but are never meant to be exhibited or sold.
5) There is nothing new out there, everything has been seen and done. This to me is an excuse. When a professional photographer takes a photo, captures a beautiful composition, captures the light, and often the character of the person, flower, landscape, I think this makes the artist's job easier to recreate the photo, so I strongly believe that photographer should be credited (and asked for permission) for their contribution to the finished work.
4) Well I really am not much of a photographer. OK, but you can learn to take your own photos if it is important to your art. Don't you want it to be YOUR ART? That is what I decided to do when I decided I wanted my work to be my own vision and experience and I didn't want to deal with copyright issues. There are many wonderful cameras out there, even in the point and shoot category. Besides that it is fun to be working on your art wherever you go by carrying a camera. And even if you don't take your own photographs, it is usually very easy to find the photographer and contact them to ask permission.
There is one more thing I want to say. There are some artists out there that think we shouldn't be working from photographs at all. I once posed a copyright question to an on-line group I belong to, and received back some good information along with some of the above misinformation, but I also received criticism from several artists about the kind of work that results from using photographs as inspiration. It seems that some look down on this kind of art. A battle ensued on that list, from which some of us are still licking our wounds.
I'd love to hear from you! What are your experiences with copyright? Please feel free to post.
And just for something gorgeous ... today while I was out teaching, my husband was in Gatineau Park photographing autumn leaves. Alas I will not make it there this year because my teaching seems to be falling on the few sunny days we've had, and I'm heading to Northern Ontario on Tuesday. I hope there are some leaves left there! Some of my husband's photos are stunning, but this one really caught my eye. Can you not imagine the reflections of these trees stitched with a dense zig zag stitch. Oh and by the way, I did ask his permission to post this (although some would say that all is fair in love ;-))).