I haven't spoken about copyright infringement for quite awhile but this morning I received an email that started me thinking about it again, so I thought that this might be helpful for you.
Before my last workshop I was contacted by someone that brought to my attention that a former student of mine was showing and possibly selling prints of what they had done in my previous workshop. The person that contacted me was a former friend and teacher to this student and mentioned that this person was also selling compositions from her class.
This situation is not unique, it happens quite often. The problem is once someone contacts me about a potential copyright infringement I have to follow up. I don't enjoy this, but I must bring the problem to the persons attention.
In this situation what ended up happening, as my student was their way to my next workshop, their former friend and teacher hired an attorney and presented them with a cease and desist order, with the intention of prosecution. Facebook was also contacted and all of their images were deleted due to the potential infringement. I felt terrible and was sorry to see this student go through this difficult, painful and intense experience during the workshop. I know this person was befuddled and felt humiliated.
I mentioned to the student when showing or selling your work, artists have to be careful that what you show or sell needs to be all your own and not a replication of another artist's work. Otherwise it is a misrepresentation of what you do, it's not that you are in competition with the original artist (which some may think) but what can happen is that some people may think the quality of the original artist has diminished or that the person imitating is a fraud, which is not a good reputation to have.
As we are learning I believe we are all guilty of copying other artist's painting compositions and styles. We dissect and imitate to have better understand about the painting process, but once you do understand there does come a point in your progression as an artist when you have to launch out into your own style and become the unique person that you are, especially if you want to show and sell. If you only imitate that is what you will be known for and once this happens it is difficult to redeem yourself in the eyes of your piers.
By mentioning this, I hope it helps, my intention is to give you a better understanding of just one of the problems that can happen with copyright infringement. As I hope you can see from this post it is not all about one individual artist, only that it is common and to be aware of what you are doing to avoid having an uncomfortable and humiliating experience or legal action taken against you. This is not a comfortable subject to bring up, only that it is important to you as an artist and to have an awareness about copyright infringement. It's not something that I made up, it's not personal and if you want more information on this subject you can always look up copyright law.
Basically what we are talking about is not to profit off of someone else's hard work, idea or design without permission, if someone "gives you permission" to copy their work or use their photo's with the intent of allowing you to show or sell, that is a personal decision between you and that person (so get it in writing) you can not randomly take another persons idea, composition, design or image and profit from it.
Yes we all make mistakes and learning from them is key and part of our education as an artist.
If for some reason you are thinking that maybe I am being just darn mean, or that you would be complemented if someone would copy and sell your work just be aware of this. In the area of where I live, I know of a well known local photographer that took a very cute photo of a couple and a string of puppies. Then a well known sculpture used his photo to create a sculpture. Each sculpture sold for a total of $ 367,000 (meaning profiting off of someone elses idea and composition) as you can imagine it then turned into a very nasty lawsuit to view the article click here and for more information click here
Left: Art Rodgers, Puppies, 1985© Art Rodgers. Right: Jeff Koons, String of Puppies, 1988