Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Original – Derivative – Copied Work, Part 2

Reverse Applique sample 2

This entry is a continuation of Sunday’s post. Thank you to everyone who commented. At this time it appears that it has struck a chord near and far! Please remember that I am based in Canada and copyright laws vary across the globe. Always check with your own country’s rules and regulations.

There is so much more to this timely subject that I split it up into two Parts. The content of Sunday’s article was not new information, so why is it that we continue to come across violations of these laws? Anyone actively producing art must  educate themselves on an ongoing basis. We live in a society where the onus is on us to find out the rules, so to speak. As artists we are inquisitive and curious, we are searching for knowledge. We explore what we learn and often express it in our art. Making sure we are aware of what others are producing, whether it is in the same medium or not is our responsibility. Let’s explore some real life scenarios:

My first encounter with copied work was in a class I taught about ten years ago. I had just finished an original piece destined for exhibition in Germany. I brought it to a design class as a sample. After three days one of the students had proudly produced a mirror image of my work in colors more to her personal liking. She proudly called it an original. No need to argue that this was a copy. I explained this, and as the student was not going to exhibit the work I chalked it up as a learning experience for both of us and the rest of the class.

Next scenario: A local judged quilt show has a multiple winner in various categories. The work is derivative of mine and the judge, who knows me and has taken classes with me, chalked it off to the possibility that the entrant had taken classes with me. The quilt maker had not taken classes with me but had obviously visited my website. With increased vigilance on the part of show organizers this practice is being addressed. Most, if not all quilt show organizers require written consent from teachers and/or designers granting permission for a particular quilt to be shown in public.

About a year ago I came across an exhibition that was a little more difficult to assess. The exhibitor had produced a significant body of work and secured several venues across the province. I went with a friend who immediately was delighted that I had surprised her by bringing her to one of my solo exhibitions… It was not my exhibition, however the work was definitely derivative of my earlier work. What does one do? Not much – except that those that have visited the show and realized that it was not my work let me know right away. The exhibitor was a former student. My resolution: Continue to educate future workshop participants on how important it is to carry the knowledge I share in class into their own studios: “Sample, sample, sample and play to move into a style that is uniquely yours’. And when you think you have found your own voice ask another artist and listen, really listen…”

What happens when a person creates a work that immediately “screams” of another artists’ work? It depends: Is the maker going to exhibit the work openly? The answer is often “no” but not always …

What is the definition of exhibition? Is it showing your work at a juried and/or judged show. Is it in a solo or group gallery show? Or will it be published on your blog/website or a chat group you belong to? All of these are forms of exhibition. Once you upload an image to a photo sharing venue on the internet it will not go away, not to mention that one has a wider audience viewing the work than if it was actually displayed in a gallery. If an artist has developed a definite voice, produced a significant body of work it is easy to proof who appeared on the scene first. The person who has copied another artist’s work should not be surprised if he/she is called on it.

Here is another scenario: Enter an emerging artist who decides that she wants to explore a similar style or even subject matter. She/he produces a piece that looks like the original artist’s work. It soon appears on the internet and since she has linked her name to the original artist’s name search engines will always bring the images up together. Kudos to the new artist for giving credit to her inspirational artist. And that is where it stops – If you create a piece for the sake of learning, and to only hang it in your own home or studio, great. Send the image to your closest friends and brag a little about how proud you are of your accomplishments. Do not post it on the internet, your social networking sites etc. If the piece was created for private enjoyment, keep it private.

In every class I make a point of explaining the concept of copy, derivative and original work. Technique based workshops are that – I share techniques, which are not copyrighted, stitches that are part of history and can be found in many source books and and the public domain. I state this clearly. The message is slowly sinking in. I receive regular inquiries from former students as to whether a new work created in their studio is original. I always know who is listening with understanding.

A word about history and copying the Masters: We are all familiar with the workshops of the Renaissance masters in Europe. Once a master established himself a workshop was opened to accept apprentices. Apprentices’ families paid for the young person to enter into the learning environment, and the apprentice began slowly, often just sweeping the floor, graduating to grinding pigments, mixing the paints and eventually copy the master. This entailed learning the way the master held the brush, applied the paint one stroke at a time, emulating the pressure exerted and how thick or light the paint was applied. It was not uncommon that the apprentice would finish the background in a painting once the master completed the main subject matter. And then there were those times where an apprentice was encouraged or able to set up an easel and canvas next to the master and follow along. Over the centuries paintings by apprentices have on occasion been mistaken for the master’s work. However, with technological advances it is now possible to retrace steps and ascertain originality of such works.

At this time nobody is going to do this when it comes to textile art. It is fine to copy and recreate work of an artist we admire as long as it is done solely for learning purposes. And one more time: The results are not to be exhibited.

I am observing a better understanding among my fellow artists. The topic of original, derivative and copied work is always a hot one – however, since I began to shift my focus in teaching on primarily process rather than product oriented workshops copyright issues are openly discussed in class. We learn by sharing and through discussion, and maybe this blogpost sheds a little more light on the subject for all reader. I encourage you to weigh in with more comments, observations and experiences.

For anyone with a keen interest in the subject feel free to check out this informative link from CARFAC Sask.

This entry was published on March 19, 2013 at 6:26 am. It’s filed under Art, Design, In the News, Journaling, Networking and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

15 thoughts on “Original – Derivative – Copied Work, Part 2

  1. Anna, hope you don’t mind, but i linked to these posts on the SDA Alberta blog—very thought provoking.


  2. Judithkh on said:

    Congratulations Anna on informing viewers so succinctly about copyright permission issues that apply to fibre arts. It seems to be a topic that many fibre artists are not aware of, yet that has such negative repercussions for the original artists from whom works have been derived but without proper credit to the artists – inasmuch as this amounts to intellectual/artistic property theft.

    As another example of inadvertent but potential copyright violation, some photo calendars, have omitted photographers’ names and sites at which photos were taken, but the calendar itself has a copyright symbol. Does this mean the photos are considered to be in the public domain, and do not require annotation I wonder? This seems to be a real injustice to the photographer. If an artist then wants to use such a photo as the basis for a fibre art creation, how does she/he go about obtaining written permission and giving proper credit to the artist whose original works may have inspired a derivative work? I assume that the publisher of the calendar would have to be contacted for permission at the very least. Would one have to try to also obtain permission of the photographer whose work was the inspiration, or even digitally used as the basis of the fibre art creation?

    Whatever the case,you have clearly elucidated for fibre artists who choose to exhibit their works in the public domain, as well as those in charge of exhibitions, the differences among original, derivative and copied works and the importance of attributing original designs to the artists who created them. Thank you for all the work you have put into these two very informative Blog posts for the benefit of all fibre artists.


    • When it comes to photo calendars the images are often stock images. A stock agency catalogs images photographers submit. Each time an image is sold to a publisher (book or calendar) the photographer receives a small fee.
      To obtain permission to use such an image is very difficult. If an artist uses such a images for inspiration it is best not to exhibit it in any form. Adorning your own home with it is the best way – consider it a practice piece. The great masters were copied (and are still to this day) to learn brush stroke, composition, color mixing etc. No student would consider exhibiting such a piece.
      I am glad you found this topic educational. As a writer you already know that every book comes with a statement that no part of a book may be reproduced without the permission of the writer and publisher. Once permission is granted credit must be given. This is the rule across the art world – it is not always respected… The answer is education to share the information.


      • Judithkh on said:

        Thanks Anna. The wisest thing is clearly to choose for one’s own work only those created by artists from which one could seek and obtain permission as the inspiration and/or basis if there is any chance at all of exhibiting. I appreciate your reply.


      • It has been my motto to use only my own images as inspiration for my art – We continue to learn! Thanks for your comments – they are always insightful and timely.


      • Great discussion Anna, Judith, I have run into this situation numerous times when teaching. I do large botanical pieces, based on my photos. I teach a class on this. Often students will bring a calendar with them with a photo they plan to base their work on. Even though I state in the supply list that the student must have permission from the photographer to use a photo, it doesn’t always happen. The student often says that she is just using the photo to learn the method. It makes me very uncomfortable because I know that the better the photo you begin with as inspiration, the better your work is going to turn out (the photographer has already captured the composition, the mood, the character, the light). So if the student’s work turns out really well I know they will be tempted to exhibit it. I worry that I, as the teacher, will be associated with any resulting copyright violation because it was made in my class. I also worry about gaining a reputation as someone who allows her students to violate copyright. However, one student did use a photo from a calendar put together by the Canadian Cancer Society, and in that case she was granted permission by the Society to use the photo. In fact, she was told that the photos were not copyrighted … is it possible that sometimes when a photographer has a photo selected for a calendar (especially one that is sold to raise funds for charity), that they sign over the copyright and do so to support a charity and receive only exposure in return? I’ve noticed the students who are also photographers or have family members who are photographers really “get” what I’m talking about. Why is it that we, as humans, often can’t understand a situation until it touches us personally?

        In any case, I remember reading an article in the Professional Quilter a while back (yes a US magazine) that said even using someone’s art work or photo as the basis for a work (even if never exhibited) is already a copyright violation. Of course if the piece is left in your own home where no one sees it, you won’t be found.

        The quilt world is generally organized around copying work … you make work using a pattern that you’ve seen finished somewhere. You see a work in a magazine or a class sample in a store, and you want to make one just like it! So when moving into the art quilt world you often find this mindset following (some see art quilts as just a different style of quilt; here we are talking about “fine art”). I think though that the quilting world is doing a great job of educating quilters about copyright. Where I note lack of education is with some fibre artists, I’ve had several fibre artists (and quilters) make work from one of my patterns, then post it to their blog or website with no credit. Or post to Facebook with no credit. I’ve had fibre artists put a work made with my pattern into a gallery and also show work made from my patterns in studio tours. When I’m in a gallery or on a studio tour I would expect work to be original, but it isn’t always. Once you operate in the art world, galleries assume your work is original and often don’t even provide a way that you can credit someone else when labelling your work.

        My two cents worth. I wrote an article about copyright on my blog last fall, and I’ll be writing another, and will point to your blog Anna. Thanks for raising this subject.


      • Elaine, many thanks for taking time out of your schedule to comment and provide further insight and information on this ever current topic. Your comment has contributed greatly to the discussion and relevance on copyright.
        Feel free to link it to your upcoming post and keep me informed so I can return the favor.


  3. Hi Anna: the subject of copied work certainly gets my attention. My experience with this is in a rather gray area that could be easily explained away as being unintentional.

    I had taken someone who I knew slightly on a photo outing and realised quite early on that this individual was taking the exact same pictures that I had just taken. I thought I was imagining this until one photo in particular required me to stand very close and underneath my subject. When this person did exactly the same thing right afterwards, I knew I had a problem. Sure enough, the pictures appeared on her blog the same day and most were virtually identical to mine. As both of us work in the same medium and with very similar subject matter, I was very concerned. The fact that they had appeared on her blog gives the impression of ownership and as I didnt have a blog, anyone seeing the photos would naturally assume that they were hers. So – – whose photos are they? Because the end content of the photo was my idea originally, does that make them mine? If questioned, the defence would almost certainly be one of innocence and not realising that the pictures would end up being identical. And when the photos are translated into artwork, am I copying her because everyone had seen them first on her blog?

    My feeling is that if you didn’t take the picture, then it’s not yours and should be credited to whoever took it in the first place. But that’s harder to define with ideas. Here, we all need to depend on the integrity of our fellow artists. I’d be interrested to hear what others think of this situation.


    • Your case is not unique. My philosophy here is: If you have taken the picture and still have it for reference after you complete a piece of art based on the image you have all the proof you need. Slight variations will be obvious as each photographer has a different handle of their camera.
      If two artists/photographers who went out to explore the landscape together come back with similar images and they both work in the same medium – work will look similar. The solution: to push one’s work and develop a definite voice. It is difficult to stay “ahead of the pack” and create something truly unique in this time and age. Keep working in your style, follow your path and your perseverance will pay off!

      Thanks for weighing in and sharing your experience.


  4. Bush Eastep on said:

    Hi, again, Anna,

    Thank you for the resource list in your last reply and this continuation of the discussion.


  5. These posts have struck a chord with me on several levels. I have learnt the hard way to avoid posting precious work on the internet. I very rarely show anything that goes beyond sampler status, and if that is what most people think I do, that’s fine by me. Thank you for posting this again. Once more I will be pointing people in this direction.


    • I am so glad you found my posts helpful. I try to present my personal experiences and back it up with research on the topic. Feel free to re-blog the articles. Thanks for spreading the word.


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