Of Copyright + Premades

18 min read

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kuschelirmel's avatar

Disclaimer: I'm no lawyer, I do not work for deviantArt, I'm merely someone who has been doing photomanips for quite a while and has taken the time to read quite a few articles on the topic. The views expressed hereunder are mine alone. They do not reflect any "official dA opinion" nor are they to be taken as "legal advice". Furthermore, you may live in a country that hasn't signed any of the treaties that govern international copyright law, so you'd have to check with your country's national laws.

I strongly urge you to not only read the journal, but also the comments underneath it as there are a lot more examples of what you can and can't do as well as more links to information being shared by your fellow deviants!

What is Copyright?

I'll paraphrase/quote the wikipedia article on the topic for this:
"Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights
to it, usually for a limited time. Generally, it is "the right to copy", but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other, related rights. It is an intellectual property form (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete.


Copyright may apply to a wide range of creative, intellectual, or artistic forms, or "works". Specifics vary by Jurisdiction, but these can include poems, theses, plays, other literary works, movies, dances, musical compositions, audio recordings, paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, software, radio and television broadcasts, and industrial designs. Graphic designs and industrial designs may have separate or overlapping laws applied to them in some jurisdictions.


Copyright laws are standardized somewhat through international conventions such as the Berne Convention and Universal Copyright Convention. These multilateral treaties have been ratified by nearly all countries, and international organizations such as the European Union or World Trade Organization require their member states to comply with them.


In all countries where the Berne Convention standards apply, copyright is automatic, and need not be obtained through official registration with any government office.


In 1989, the U.S. enacted the Berne Convention Implementation Act, amending the 1976 Copyright Act to conform to most of the provisions of the Berne Convention.  As a result, the use of copyright notices has become optional to claim copyright, because the Berne Convention makes copyright automatic."
So, in short, if your work qualifies to be copyrighted and you live in a country that has signed the Berne Convention (you can see a list here), you do not have to do anything for your work to be copyright protected! That in turn means that you need to assume that EVERYTHING you see online is copyright protected as well! It also means that if you take someone else's work without having permission to do so, you're in violation of international copyright law.

:bulletred: You can't use anything that you do not have permission to use!

Different kinds of permissions

There are different ways to obtain permission to use someone else's work.

1) Of course, you can always ASK someone for permission - send them a dA note, use a private message on a forum they frequent or simply e-mail them. But make sure you get permission for what you want to do, so in your request, outline your envisioned use! For example, ask them if it's okay to use it in a manip, but if you want to make the manip a print (on dA, redbubble, wherever) say so and ask permission for that as well! If you want to create something others can re-use later (such as premade backgrounds, brushes, journal layouts or whatever else) do make sure you ask specifically if that is okay! Just because someone is okay with you creating a personal piece of artwork doesn't mean they'll be thrilled to find their image redistributed in other forms or the artwork sold!

2) There are websites, such as fotolia.com where people come to upload their images specifically for others to use. The whole purpose of such websites is based on the concept of stock photography - that means that the website has your needed permission in their TERMS OF USE. Therein they will tell you very specifically what you can and cannot do when downloading an image from the site. These rules may include crediting the site in addition or in stead of crediting the original copyright holder as well as defining if/what you'll need to pay for the image. Also, most stock sites have different kinds of licenses that you can buy (so you'll pay more if you want to use the image as it is on a large series of mugs for sale than if you're going to use it for something non-commercial) and/or the photographer can set different rules by choosing from a given list. These sites set rules for both photographers offering stock and users downloading stock to use and as such, what you can and cannot do is very clearly defined. BUT you'll NEED to read the Terms of Use which may not be written in the most straight forward manner (with a lot of legalese). Often, the site will have an faq section as well though, where you can read the rules more plainly.

3) And then there are sites like deviantArt or flickr where people can have an account and upload photos and artwork under some terms and conditions that are mostly concerned with the relationship between the site and the member, but generally do not contain any special paragraph on stock. They may have a special gallery for stock and resources (like dA), but the Terms of Use for those are up to the stock provider, not the site! In practice, this means that while you may not need to ask for permission to use certain images, you cannot use all images on the site. Your permission is in each stock provider's individual rules as long as those rules are publicly displayed (those rules can usually be found in the stock provider's journal for dA stock or somewhere on the person's profile on other sites and sometimes in artist's comments on individual images -- but it has to be clear that the image you want to use is labeled as stock). YOU NEED TO STICK TO THESE RULES! Even if they ask you not to put their stock in a manip with bunnies. To be forbidden to create a bunny manip with it may sound ridiculous to you, but if the stock provider who holds the copyright doesn't want this then you can't do it. Period. That's all in that bold sentence up there: the copyright holder has the right to say what happens with their work and they do not need to justify their choice to you or anyone.

:bulletred: Remember, the copyright holder has the right to say NO & they have the right to be credited if they say yes!

Cut-out stock, brushes, premades,...

So far, I've mostly been talking about someone who wants to find images to use for their manips. But these things of course also apply to anyone else! If the Terms of Use you need to follow do not allow a certain use, you can't use it. That includes the use in premade backgrounds, cut-out stock etc!

:bulletred: It doesn't matter if you put work into it and it doesn't matter if it's "just for fun" and "no profit is made".

You can't take something that isn't yours and by working on it make it yours in real life either. For example, you steal a bunch of clothes (taking it without following the "official Terms of Use" that you need to pay before you can leave the store with things you got there) and at home, you take your sewing machine and scissors and change them around so afterwards you end up with something that looks only remotely like the original. Now you go and give the stuff away for free, receiving tons of thank yous and what not - but in the end of the day, you gave away stolen goods and if the authorities catch one of your unsuspecting gift-receivers, they'll take the clothes away and come after you for sure.

The same happens if you distribute premade stock, cut-outs, brushes etc without having permission from the original copyright holder! Not only are you doing something ilegal, you're also making others who trust in what they get to be legal stock your accomplices whose work will be taken down because of your infringement!

:bulletblue: If you are a stocker, please recheck your sources - are the copyright holders really okay with you creating premades/brushes/cut-outs etc from their stock? Or are you maybe overstepping your legal bounds y using those images?

:bulletblue: If you are a manipulator, please recheck your sources: are they really legitimate stock? Or do you have any doubts as to where they got their base images from? Personally, I'd only use cut-outs/premades/brushes etc where I have some indication of where they got their images from is a legitimate source ("all images used were taken by me" or similar sentences in the artist's comment always help to ease my mind, or seeing the originals in the stock artist's gallery etc) - because you have to ask yourself: is the stock really worth risking having your art taken down or being accused of stealing? Is it worth the trouble just for a nice background or an already cut out stock image?

Credit alone doesn't cut it!

Giving credit to someone who has no idea you just used his image is not the same as asking him for permission first. You can expect him/her to rip your head off if you have the guts to show him/her what you did. And if he finds out on his own, you shouldn't expect mercy either.

Saying that you don't own anything or adding the line "credit to the owners" is NOT a way to get around copyright laws! It doesn't relive you of your obligation to get permission. If you don't have permission, no amount of "credit" or saying that "nothing's mine, all belongs to whoever this belongs to" (do these people even hear what they sound like?!) will save you from the original creator's anger and/or law suit.

"Credit coming soon" is NOT credit at all. If you have time to upload, you need to make time to add credit. Or you are might just as well not have used legitimate stock to begin with.

Are there exceptions to the rules above?

As with all laws, there's room for interpretation in some gray areas (like the question what exactly qualifies for copyright in the first place and of course the whole field of "fair use"), but in my experience, if you want to keep your own life simple, you don't consider the what-ifs and the maybes but try to go for something straight forward to hold on to. Besides, some things - like the fact that credit alone isn't going to cut it if you don't have permission to go with your use first - are not debatable, no matter how much you'd like to think otherwise.

What you can always do though, is ask for permission - either when you're unsure if the person will allow what you have in mind or even when you know they have excluded your use in their rules. Just do yourself a favour and be polite about it.
For starters, say hello and use real words, no chat-speak. Use your real name when signing the note/e-mail/PM/etc. And think about why it has to be this image and not just any other that may be available without asking special permission. Saying something like "I know you don't allow it but I thought I'd ask anyway" will most likely put a frown on the stock provider's face and (s)he'll answer with "if you know that already, why do you ask?! The answer is still no." Feigning ignorance of the rules is also not a good idea, as what you'll get as an answer will most likely be something like "well, if you'd read my rules you'd know I don't allow this. The answer is no." So what are you supposed to do? You may have a chance if you outline what it is you're going to do and how your case might be special (for example it may be for a special purpose) or maybe you're willing to offer them something in return (for example a (smaller) copy of the finished work to include in their gallery/portfolio). Maybe it's for commercial use and you can offer some money and/or a copy of the book/cd you want to create the cover to etc. Remember to actually tell them about the project! Give them more than just "I want to use this for a book cover". Or maybe it's just because you fell in love with this particular image and don't want to make any money off it at all, just a chance to play with it for fun...
Just remember that the rules are usually there for a reason and for someone to break their own rules it may need a bit more than a blunt one-line request. 

Copyright and Daily Deviations

It's quite simple, really. If it breaks copyright law, it can't be DDed. It shouldn't be on deviantArt at all actually. The Community Volunteers with DD priviledges (see a list here) are all aware of deviantArt's Terms of Service & deviantArt's copyright policy as well as the fact that copyrighted material is a no-no (also see FAQ #157: Can I use things created by other people in my submissions? & FAQ #217: What are "Stock and Resources" and can I use them in my submissions?). But there certainly are galleries that have a bigger problem with this than others and the photomanipulation gallery is definitely one with a high risk of violations, simply because it's always hard to recognize original images used without permission after they've been blended with half a dozen others. You could always ask: is there credit missing? Or did that bit come from their private photo collection?

Personally, I hate always having to second-guess everything, so I've been using a practical approach to what I'll consider to DD that I hope you can see the merit of: I need to see stock credits for all images used so I can should I have doubts check the stock providers' galleries and check the original images (unless the stocker requires it in their rules, I personally don't need to see direct links to the images even though that of course makes it easier to check). Furthermore, if the person uses their own photos, then I need to see this stated somewhere! I just want o hear you say it, not because I like you to jump through hoops, but because it sets a positive example that credit is not going to diminish your work's worth, but it is an integral part of what a photomanipulator needs to consider. It's a fact that you won't be able to always get all images you need by shooting them yourself. There's no shame in accepting help there - but if you do, you need to follow the rules attached to this help.

NOTE: at the time of writing, I, kuschelirmel was a Community Volunteer and able to give DDs in the photomanipulation category. But since then I turned in my hat ^ and can no longer DD anything! Please use the list here to find out who is responsible today before sending a suggestion note ;)

Articles and Links
Photomanipulation for Beginners

an article about what photomanipulation is and what you need to try it - and on the ever so important issue of "where do I get pictures to play with?"

--> read article <--


Of Copyright & Premades
is an article that strives to explain what copyright means, who it protects and that simply putting work into something will not make using something without permission okay.

Know your Basics - article series:

A series of articles that try to explain some basics in art that you may or may not have heard of before but didn't know what to do with them. All of them are written especially for photo- manipulators, but the principles should hold true in any genre.

--> Know your basics - Colour Theory <--
--> Know your basics - Composition <--
--> Know your basics - Perspective <--
--> Know your basics - Textures <--

Tutorial Treasury

--> 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 <--

Journal Stock Credits: Kaotiksymphony-Stock and iMouritsa.
© 2012 - 2024 kuschelirmel
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ailerozn's avatar
"Bullet; Red It doesn't matter if you put work into it and it doesn't matter if it's "just for fun" and "no profit is made".
Credit alone doesn't cut it!"

This is perfect. There are always these beautiful image blends/manipulations that say, "credits in my faves", or "resources aren't mine". Or they say, "this is noncommercial so it doesn't matter," and they go using celebrity images because it's "just for fun." I really appreciate you making this journal! Thank you so much!