Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Knowing What to Steal

There is a popular expression "Good artists copy, great artists steal." It was originally written by W.H. Davenport Adams as "That great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil." and was meant to speak harshly of people who stole his poetry. Over the years it has been rewritten and reworked to the modern day translation.

The often used quote, however, does not do a good job of defining what to steal. Artists (photographers, authors, painters, etc) first learn by copying others. In class, we are shown an image and asked to reproduce it so that we can learn how to get the same lighting, tone or other element. This is nothing new. Over time we take those influences and modify them to make them our own. Create our own variation of the work. Eventually we create our own style and make unique works of our own. Which, if we are any good at it,are then copied and modified by others as they learn. 

The problems come when a creative work is taken by someone, who then displays it as if they are are the original artist. The photographer who downloads other people's art to fill his portfolio and the blogger who cut and pastes articles from news sources or other bloggers without crediting the original author are two popular examples. This is plagiarism and a violation of Copyright laws. 

Copyright Law allows for the protection of an artist's work, unless the work fall under section 107, also referred to as Fair Use. 
Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. - US Copyright Law Website
Ideas can't be copyrighted. Stealing, for the purposes of this article, is the use of another person's idea. It's the study of an image, or work of art, followed by an attempt to recreate the art. It's not possible, without extreme pre-planning, for two artists to create the exact same piece of art. There will always be subtle differences. Different colors, props, word choice. 

When considering what to post on your blog ask yourself, are you plagiarizing or stealing?