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jpohl 21-07-09 05:09 PM

copyright issues
Should an artist be worried about copyright if they paint a portrait of a model wearing a designer couture dress. Is this something to avoid? Coco Chanel for example died in 1971, and I believe the copyright protection on an author's work in France is for 70 years after death. Chanel likely has had the rights passed onto the corporation. Is this an issue to worry about? Is it necessary to get the permission of designers and corporations before painting any designs or images that appear on clothing? Or is it a matter of how much it is featured in the painting? Is half of Winnie the Pooh's face permissible? Or is it only a problem if you make prints? What about degrees of interpretation in so many post modernist pieces? Does anyone know much about copyright law?

Things are changing for photographers. People who have no more than fuzzy images in award winning photographers have sued. I know of one amazing photographer who has given up taking pictures out of the studio for these reasons. And now with the whole anti terrorism laws we hear stories of photographers, tourists and school children have been called into police stations for taking photos in streets and train stations.

Wondering what people have to say. I think especially of the first question now, and if painting people in designer clothing is a problem.

all the best, jp

PhilS 27-07-09 06:15 PM

Hi Janet,
Interesting question. Copyright laws are to prevent people from profiting from the works of others. If you paint a portrait of someone wearing a designer dress, it would be a compliment to the designer. I can't imagine how they could claim you were trying to profit from it. These days, though, you have to worry about everything.
In the portrait I did for the Smithsonian competition, I used a design from one of my wife's dresses for the background. Maybe I'll get sued! C'est la guerre...

Alessandra Kelley 03-08-09 03:54 PM

Good grief, don't ever use the "compliment" argument. It holds no legal water anywhere. And don't use the not-making-a-profit argument either. It's just as illegal to copy someone's work and distribute it for free as it is to sell it for a profit.

However, copyright law is weird. I don't claim to be an expert on it (Really, you should check out good sites on art law copyrights such as or A lot of basic questions are answered at ) but ...

Fashion design is NOT covered by American copyright law. Seriously! It's a major current issue in the fashion world, and a very thorny one given the need to define what is a fashion design, what is a knockoff, etc. The major players want copyright, but they haven't got it yet (And probably should not, see the arguments in and )

What does this mean? It means you can paint pictures of Chanel's clothing to your heart's content as long as you are not ripping off another artists' work (such as a photograph of the fashions, which IS copyrighted). In France maybe not so much. Their copyright laws are different.

However, you certainly do have to get permission to use anybody's copyrighted image on garments. Whether they are a designer or a corporation or your creative nephew, you must have permission or you are violating copyright. And good luck getting Winnie the Pooh. Disney is renowned for its Darth Vader-like treatment of copyright infringements.

As for people's images in photographs, again, that's tricky and I'm not too clear on it myself. In general, the photographer owns the copyright to the photograph. This is why it is illegal to reproduce a photo of yourself or your kids which was taken in a portrait studio -- you don't have that right, even though you commissioned the photo and you're in it. The copyright belongs to the photographer.

RobM 04-08-09 04:07 PM

I am a member of the Design and Artists Copyright Society who deal with all aspects of copyright and Artists Resale Rights. There is a load of information on their web site re copyright albeit mainly applicable to the UK.
I have just 'Googled' and found a similar organisation in Canada.....not had a thorough look at the site. DACS is now free membership, have not looked to see if there any fees for the organisation in Canada....anyway perhaps have a look through and see if it can be of any help.

PhilS 06-08-09 12:11 AM


As usual, you have done a very thorough job of researching this topic. My opinions were entirely without legal foundation. I am removing my foot from my mouth.

I will say this, though: Recently I discovered that one of my beach rock paintings is popping up frequently on MySpace. It usually is attached to the phrase "You ROCK!". At least one member is using it for wallpaper on her home page. No attribution given to me, the artist. Am I upset? Not at all. I take it as a compliment that they like my painting. (Maybe they don't like it; it's just become a sort of visual adjective. At any rate, they are welcome to use it.)

OK, I would be a little ticked if they were selling reprints. Would I sue them? Probably not.

This is a topic that I'm afraid will loom ever larger in the future. Thank you for the links you and Rob provided above. Maybe I'll read them. I admit, I'd rather go to the dentist.

Did I just put my foot back in my mouth?


Dennis H 08-08-09 12:01 AM

Phil, if so, the dentist should be able to remove it! (For a fee.)

mona 11-08-09 05:24 AM

copyright issues
My impression is JP meant painting a painting of (i.e. a child) wearing Winnie-the-Pooh on a t-shirt (?), not Winnie-the-Pooh t-shirts themselves, and yes, that's fine---it exists in the real world.

Overall the rule of thumb in the U.S. that I was taught is legal, which I've always used when I've done illustrations is just that I never copy any image verbatim. Using practical judgement, I take a piece of this, a piece of that and create my own image. Parts of couture designs, a Big Bird Sesame Street stuffed toy, and many other recognizable items have appeared in my art as objects that exist in the real world (just like you make a painting of a sculpture, but you are not 'copying' the sculptor, you are just creating the scene), and I believe this is absolutely fine.

I recall an instance where either Time or Newsweek featured an illustration of Jimmy Carter that was too "verbatim" a replica of a photo by a prominent photographer used around the same time on the competion's magazine cover and the illustrator was sued, but it was obvious that it was too closely copied, and to be fair, perhaps partly the art director and/or editor's error also for missing it and allowing this one to make it to the cover, especially since they always hire several artists to do a given cover and just choose one.


jpohl 04-06-10 05:22 PM

Thanks for all the feedback.. it took a while for me to make my way back here and will read through all the advice.

I'm having the same question re: fragments of movie stills which may be a tougher question given all the big money involved in the industry these days. Is permissible or in the degree of interpretation? Noticed writer Douglas Coupland has been appropriating Warhol, but then what didn't Warhol appropriate? Is it just a matter of hoping you won''t be called on something, or avoiding selling reproductions?

all the best, j

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