COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT: It's a serious offense...

About 2 years ago, North Light books contacted me about a copyright infringement. An illustrator had copied two drawings from my Colored Pencil Portraits book.  The illustrator had made minor changes (hair color) but it was clearly copyright infringement. The drawings were included in a children's book by a small publishing company.  Even though the publishers themselves were completely ignorant of the illustrator's copyright infringement,

COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT: It's a serious offense...

A Shock

After 2 years in retirement, we brought our wonderful GLU-it TO-it widget back in stock. A couple days after putting it online, I checked Google to see if they'd already picked up the image from my website. They had!  (Google is some kind of magic, isn't it?)

To my shock,  I also discovered that my image of the GLU-it TO-it was on this website. My product image was used without permission. Using someone's image without permission is copyright infringement, and that is serious business.


About 2 years ago, North Light books contacted me about a copyright infringement. An illustrator had copied two drawings from my Colored Pencil Portraits book.  The illustrator had made minor changes (hair color) but it was clearly copyright infringement. The drawings were included in a children's book by a small publishing company.  Even though the publishers themselves were completely ignorant of the illustrator's copyright infringement, North Light received damages in the amount of $5000, of which I received 10%.  Copyright infringement is a serious matter.

Protect Yourself

We have now begun the rather arduous task of adding my logo to all images on our website to protect ourselves.  I'd suggest you do the same with images on your own website or blog.  If someone doctors your image to remove your name or logo, the consequences of infringement become huge, including imprisonment.

If you want to use someone else's image on your website, blog or brochure, ask permission. If not granted, there are loads of royalty-free image websites.  My current favorite is but I've also used You pay for the images, but they are very reasonably priced. (Royalty free does not mean the image is free to use. It simply means that you are not charged for each use of the image.)

Need an image of a piece of well-known artwork for illustration?  Try Wikimedia Commons.  They have royalty-free images of famous artwork, often in high resolution files you can download at no cost. Wikimedia Commons also has photographs of famous people that are in the public domain, like this shot of Charlie Chaplin.

There are also "fair use" exceptions to copyright laws, for purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research. Using an image for any of these purposes is not copyright infringement.



Think Re-selling Makes it Okay?

Re-selling is not a license for use of images that are not your own. Ebay has guidelines that specify that you must use photos and text created yourself. Ebay's rules state:

You're not allowed to use the following if you don't have permission from the owner, its agent, or the law:

Scans from catalogs or advertisements
Photos and text from other eBay users
Photos and text copied from websites


I learned my own re-seller lesson a dozen years ago when I used two images from a cruiseline website to advertise our first colored pencil workshop cruise.  I assumed that since we were selling their cruises, it would be fine.  I was hit with copyright infringement a few months later and paid $1800 for my mistake, even though by that time, the images were no longer viewable on my website. Why would the cruise line do this?  They didn't! The cruiseline themselves had purchased the right to use the images from a third party.  The third party sued me for damages.  Copyright infringement is a big deal.

Did I feel resentment at paying this huge sum that I absolutely could not afford?  Truthfully, no. I realized I'd broken the law and a penalty was to be expected. I did, however, feel shame because as an artist myself, I should have known better!


So as easy as Right-Click > Copy Image is, steer clear.  If you happen to find one of your images online, you can ask for damages and for removal of the image.  You can also notify the website's host of the copyright infringement and they will take the offending website down.


Tags: copyright

Comments (4)

I’ve been aware of the copyright for a long time, both doing art and family history.

Gary Greene has a Landscape Photo Reference book out and he gives us artists permission to chop up, add to, subtract from his photos, but NOT to use the whole photo in one of our paintings. In fact, he even has a blurb in his introduction to the copy person at the local copying place that it is okay for the owner of the book to copy his photos for their own personal use. I love his book, especially his sky colors, cause often this darn old Northwest sky is gray, gray, gray and my using his sky coloring rendition really helps the painting.

My brother takes awesome photos, and even though we are related, if I find one I like, I will email him and get his permission to use it. I did that with a 2nd cousin who had written a family book. I have his permission to use the information from his book in my family history writing, as long as I give him credit for the information. And with that exchange I have linked myself to oodles of cousins in New Zealand I did not even know existed.

In family history public documents, such as birth, marriage, death certificates, tax returns, land deeds, are not copyrighted. However, if someone posts a photo that they own of one of their ancestors, you MUST contact that person, tell them who you are and how you are related, and ASK their permission to copy the photo to your family tree. Not only is it required by law, but it also connects you to cousins you didn’t even know you had.

Long winded here, but you get the idea.

As you said Ann, COPYRIGHT IS VERY IMPORTANT. I sincerely urge anyone doing a painting or even family history to get permission BEFORE putting a lot of work into your project and then finding out you cannot use it, or worse, have to pay a fine.

Wonderful post and so timely for the New Year as we all get excited about doing new project.

Happy painting to everyone out there.

Peggy - Dec 02, 2014

I have always been shocked and dismayed to find certain Facebook groups that clearly allow Copyrighted images that have been used in art. In one particular group a friend and I brought up the subject of Copyright infringement, we were practically tarred and feathered. Needless to say I no longer post there and they are still using material that they have no right to use.

There is another magazine that many here are familiar with and that Editor clearly allows art that was used from Copyrighted phonto. Someday both the magazine and Artist will be taken to court and they will lose. There is no excuse to violate these laws…….IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO EXCUSE.
I have always appreciated the fact that Ann Kullberg is very ethical and would not allow these images of art from Copyrighted photos on her Web page, Facebook page and/or Color Pencil Magazine.

Dianne Gruber - Dec 02, 2014

Ann, I’ve enjoyed your books but your explanation of copyright is a little confusing and I’m not sure you have properly interpreted it, nor do I understand exactly what happened on your copyright infringement with North Light.
I’m not interested in debating the law with you, however please tell me why I would spend time creating my own version of one your drawings if I couldn’t own it and sell it if someone wanted to buy it. …… and how does this affect the use of your jump start packs? You certainly don’t have exclusive rights to your techniques. You can’t for example, publish educational materials and offer them as instruction and then fine a person for claiming ownership of something they produced by applying what they learned. Your publication of a tracing of an existing structure,for example, does not give you exclusive rights to that particular geometry that you copied from the building owner in the first place. I can tell you that I now have a book (not one of yours) that has tracings of a well known building in it that I fully intend to use to complete a drawing of that building without any credit to the author. I also plan to use the photo reference in the book to help me decide what colors to use, along with any other reference I can find. And if it turns out good, I fully expect to own it and be able to sell it without any concern for copyright infringement simply because it looks like the same building. I am suggesting that the authors rights do not extend that far. I realize that I cannot copy the tracing or the image in the book on a copy machine and use it in a publication of my own, but I can certainly use it as a reference and create my own. I know from working as an author with a major publishing company, that I can sometimes (but not always) redraw someone else’s graphic and claim it as my own without giving any credit, provided that I didn’t actually photocopy any part of it, or trace it “verbatim”, or it does not include proprietary information that I could not otherwise find somewhere in the public domain. Also, If something I painted from your instruction book looks a lot like yours, wouldn’t that mean that I learned your techniques well and applied them? and isn’t that why I would have purchased the book in the first place. I’m just saying that I believe you may be overstating what someone has rights to, or maybe I am misconstruing what your are saying. I can take someone’s photograph or painting of the Washington Monument, for example, and use it to create my own painting and I have not necessarily violated that photographer’s rights even if I sell it for profit. It would depend upon a lot of other factors.

Glenn Davis - Dec 02, 2014

Glenn Davis…thank you for your comments but I’m afraid you are mistaken about copyright rules. ANY TIME you create your own art using a reference photo or artwork that you didn’t take or create yourself, you are guilty of copyright infringement, unless you have permission from the original photographer or artist. The only exception would be art/photographs that are in the public domain because the copyright period has ended (70 years from date of creation.)

If you want to draw one of our kits and sell your completed drawing, that’s fine, but ONLY because we give you permission to do so. We could just as easily refuse permission and then it would be copyright infringement.

North Light: The artist who was found guilty of copyright infringement sold 2 drawings to a publishing company that were based on my drawings featured in a North Light book. The artist changed hair color, dress color and background, but it was still recognizable being reference from my portraits. $5000 was the cost to them of that copyright infringement.

There’s really no ambiguity to it at all. If you didn’t take the photo, if you don’t have permission, if the reference isn’t at least 70 years old, that is copyright infringement.

Fan art is also copyright infringement. Fan artists are just lucky in that there are so many artists infringing that photographers/cinematographers couldn’t keep up. Doesn’t matter though, it’s still copyright infringement. Period.

Ann Kullberg - Dec 02, 2014

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