Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Where does inspiration end and Copyright Infringement begin?

I've been thinking about art, and copyrights, ever since Boxing Day, when I read about this issue in The Toronto Star. They had a cover contest for an "emerging artist," promising to publish the winning entry - themed around Christmas in Toronto - on their front cover on Christmas Eve. And pay the winner $2500! (One wonders what might have happened if there had actually been BIG NEWS that day. But I digress.)

The winning illustration was BEAUTIFUL - an impressionistic "streetcars-in-snow" painting that captures the beauty of the season amidst the hustle and bustle.

The problem, however, was that the winning artist may have been "inspired" by a photo she saw on Flickr. She didn't mention it to anyone until the photographer approached The Star, at which time she claimed to have looked at a lot of photos for inspiration. You can see the comparison here, but to me, the composition and tones are so similar that there is no question that her work is based on his.

So is it copying? Or being inspired? Would it have been different if she had contacted the photographer, or acknowledged him in the original article?

And just when I was feeling completely indignant on behalf of the photographer, my friend Kirsten Koza sent me this very cool website, wherein artist Dave Devries embellishes children's drawings to look like professional illustrations. So magnificent. Or so awful. Maybe he's enhancing their work to make it appear the way they envisioned it. Or maybe he's saying that the way they did it themselves wasn't actually good enough.

As an art teacher, I struggle with that concept all the time. The "less-is-more" part of me (which, I'm sure you've noticed, is only the part that does my hair, and cleans my house, and creates visual art - not the part that tries to write short blog entries and then can't stop....) wants my students NOT to write their names in giant letters on the middle of the page. NOT to make fifty snowmen floating on the page at all sorts of weird angles. NOT to entirely cover their shiny silver ornament, carefully decorated with a handprint that becomes snowmen, in red Sharpie marker. But I don't want to squash their creativity, or make them feel that their work isn't valid.

On the other hand, when they ask, and I can help by suggesting we move a line a little to the left, or by making it more symmetrical, I love to see how delighted and proud they are as their art becomes more like that which they imagined.

I think we all - young and old - would love to have an art makeover by Dave Devries.

As long as we know he's doing it.