- What Is Art Theft?
- What Is Tracing?
- What Is Art Paraphrasing?
- Why Can't I Use Other People's Art as "Reference" to Make My Own Art?
- How Can I Avoid Being Called on Art Plagiarism?
What Is Art Theft?
Art theft is defined as blatantly stealing a piece of artwork and posting it as your own. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Posting screencaptures saying that you "took them yourself" as though they were photographs, when in fact, those still images already existed--it's called a FRAME. :)
- Adding text, clip art or other images to a piece. Putting a witty word bubble or a sprite on something doesn't make it yours.
- Piecing together multiple images. No matter how cool it looks, Frankensteining multiple sprites together to make one sprite is direct art theft.
- Drawing on top of someone else's already existing image.
- Applying filters to an image, changing colors, or inverting its colors.
What Is Tracing?
Tracing is defined as blatantly copying the composition and structure of a work with little or no alteration, with the intent of claiming the by-product as your own. You "went through the motions" of reproducing the image, but the composition is identical to the original, with the intent for it to be identical. Examples of tracing include, but aren't limited to:
- Tracing the original piece. Including photographs. No, changing what media a work is presented in doesn't change the fact that you traced it.
- Tracing the original piece and coloring it. Yes, even applying different colors makes it art theft.
- Tracing the original piece and flipping it backwards. And then coloring it.
- Tracing the original piece and altering minor details, but leaving the same general composition. This last example leads into the concept of paraphrasing, so let's go on to that.
What Is Art Paraphrasing?
Literary plagiarism is a tangible, normally taught and understood moral that echoes the moral that "stealing is wrong." But, I don't get why it's not common understanding what it means to plagiarize art. So first, let's look at what literary plagiarism is: taking the original ideas in another's work and reproducing it with the intent of mimicking the original. This isn't just "tracing"--or, in the literary sense, copying word-for-word another's work, even when wording is rearranged or changed slightly. You may not be wholly quoting a work if you write it in your own words, but paraphrasing it is still stealing the ideas of the original piece. You're still stealing a paper if you keep the same thesis statement and supporting details, even if you wrote the paper entirely in your own words.
Similarly, art plagiarism is taking the basic composition of a piece of art and using that as basis to make your own image. Many examples I've seen of art plagiarism are really just tracings with minimal self-effort thrown in. You may not have a print-out of the "reference work" directly beneath your paper, and you may even be changing which character(s) are portrayed, but that still doesn't change the fact that the composition of a piece of art is the intellectual property of the original owner. (More on intellectual property later.) Let's go back to the example of what written paraphrased plagiarism is. You're still stealing artwork if you keep the same composition and specific details/arrangement, even if you changed which characters are portrayed and even if you drew the lines without tracing them. The specific combination of elements that together combine to form the overall composition of a work is the intellectual property of the original creator.
But, don't be fooled--just like it's art theft to combine multiple images into one image, it's art plagiarism to combine multiple "references" into a single piece. Identically copying any major element of another person's work is still art theft. (More on alluding to other works later.) If you were to give your character a keyblade that looks identical to Sora's, that's art plagiarism. You didn't make that design.
Why Can't I Use Other People's Art as "Reference" to Make My Own Art?
Referencing another piece of art on its own is not wrong. You may need an understanding of how a limb bends or a garment would hang/fold--it's okay to get a general idea for how tangible properties, bodies, and objects work. It's also okay to look at a body of works by a particular artist with the intent of mimicking their style for a particular piece.
It's not okay to pick up a work and "reference" the placement of essentially every element on the page, or take any one major element of that piece and say you thought of the design yourself.
Many people do not understand that all works--of any media--are protected by an understood copyright. Intellectual property is any idea that is entirely of one's own creation; an invention is a great example. You have to file for a patent so that everyone knows who got the original rights to the royalties; but, this is to protect the money involved in producing merchandise using the invention. You don't have to file for copyright every time you make something--it's understood that you had that idea, and it's yours. The "patent" is already understood when it comes to literature, art, and film--it's rarely about money when it comes to Internet media, it's about ownership.
The establishment of this inherent copyright is the reason why Creative Commons was established--it is the exception to the unspoken rule regarding the etiquette of intellectual property. Creative Commons is a form of licensing that explicitly states how the original creator will permit others to use his work. Creative Commons is NOT the standard for any piece you find online--the inherent copyright is. You must have explicit permission from the original creator of a piece in order to use it in any way that you can claim as your own.
One makes allusions, references, homages, and parodies by mimicking the original piece. This is the only acceptable reason and way to copy the original inspiration detail-for-detail, because the mere act of alluding to another work denounces your ownership of that idea. If you wanted to draw a picture of Sephiroth doing the pose for "The Vitruvian Man" as a parody of daVinci's original masterpiece, you would need to have the exact pose and style of composition in order for your audience to make that connection. Without these clues, your audience would not connect the two ideas you are attempting to link together. It's something akin to iconography in its workings.
It does NOT excuse your theft just to say that "referencing" the entirety of one picture for your own picture is "an homage to the original," or that the original "inspired you" to make the exact same piece, "only different." (More on identical reproductions later.)
Regardless, adding disclaimers to your pieces are a good way to let people know what the original work(s) was. No one could ever know every piece of art in existence--and as such, it's a good idea to explain where you got your ideas. Most of your audience will probably be very interested to read what inspired your art as well--it's no admission to guilt to explain where your inspiration came from! Background on why an artist did a piece always adds depth, value, and meaning to a piece. :)
Let's continue on to other reasons disclaimers are helpful.
How Can I Avoid Being Called on Art Plagiarism?
I cannot say this enough: Don't dupe your audience. If you made a work with the intent of copying or alluding to another work, SAY SO IN YOUR DESCRIPTION. deviantART gives you the ability to accompany your images with text for a better reason than tacking on Plz smilies, Internet slang, and nonsense--it's there for disclaimers!! If you made a piece with the intent of drawing it in another artist's style, then say, "Hey, I thought Dr. Crowler would look neat in Amano's style." If you are drawing a piece with the intent of making homage to a classic work, then say, "Okay, so I thought it would be awesome to draw some of Sartorius's Arcana Force Monsters like they're on a Horror Movie Poster from the 1950's. They just look like they're from that era of creature-making." And even if you were commissioned to mimic another person's artwork--even in your own style or with other characters--you need to say, "Jace commissioned me to draw Dr. Crowler in the same pose as 'The Birth of Venus'" or "Matt told me he'd like to see how I'd reproduce Jace's style, so here I am with this picture I did of Starscream and Megatron. I used his Transformers art as reference for how he draws machines."
Fan art can be drawn in the original artist's style--doing other things than the original images used for reference--because fan art in itself is a far more tolerated offense; regardless that it does breach "no derivative works" to make fan art or write fan fiction, you are never claiming the characters as your own, and you are (usually) never claiming that you designed them or the world they live in.
But, be aware that simply stating what your inspiration(s) and reference(s) were is never enough if you blatantly ripped off the original artwork. Making an identical copy of "Mona Lisa" is NOT an homage to daVinci. Drawing Dr. Crowler doing the exact same pose as the official lineart is NOT fan art of Dr. Crowler. NEITHER of these examples is an original piece, regardless that you made it--you still made it with the intent to make an identical copy of the original. The only exception to this rule--and it isn't a widely accepted exclusion, either--is when someone says, "I thought it would be good practice to paint Mona Lisa stroke-for-stroke in an exactly the same way as daVinci. The identical reproduction is a study of how I see that the artist could have composed his painting." (It's a bad example, I know, considering the blasphemy of saying acrylics/oils/etc. could ever recreate the organic palette of the "Mona Lisa." It's hard not to make a bad example here, though. Albeit mine is a bit humorous, considering why almost all of daVinci's works are incomplete...) This disclaimer discounts the artistic properties and intellectual property of the image. The sole gain of copying a piece identically is learning the process by which another artist did his works. When you start out learning to draw, it's okay to copy images identically or trace them--you learn how to do something by repeating someone else's processes over and over. Once you learn to draw, don't copy anymore--show the world what YOU can do, and make your OWN art. Walk on your own two legs--quit using someone else's for crutches. You have the power.
Golden, Francis Leverett. "What Is Art Plagiarism? (READ THIS)" 11 July 2009. deviantART. [DOA 01/29/2019] http://datenshikurai.deviantart.com/journal/21493555/