Copyrights part 2

by Armand Cabrera

One of my readers wrote for some further information and clarifications about copyrights and I thought they would be of interest to everyone so here they are.

If an artist copies a work and clearly ‘attributes’ it to the other artist, is it then okay to sell it as a copy? Only if the artist is dead?

 John Singer Sargent

If you copy the work of a dead artist (as an example let’s say Sargent) you must use the phrase After John Singer Sargent and then your name, as part of the signature on the front of the painting. To copy the work of a living artist and sell it you must obtain their permission. Museums have strict standards for copy work so if you are planning to copy paintings in a museum check their rules and registration policies. Usually museums don’t want you to copy a painting in the same size as the original.

It seems common now for artists to sell prints of their paintings. What about artists who put their own images on t-shirts, calendars, coffee mugs etc? (With a copyright symbol) Are there any ethics or laws here, especially regarding the person who bought the original painting? Maybe even several years earlier before all these merchandising opportunities were available? Do clients object to “their “painting being on a coffee mug? Or does it make their painting more valuable?

Clients may object but the copyright resides with the artist until they give up or transfer those rights in writing. The sale of the original work transfers no copyright for the work and the creator of the work can recreate and sell any reproductions they choose. Whether it makes the original more valuable is debatable.

It is also important to take into consideration the effect selling prints has; if your collectors start dumping your originals back on the market you might want to think twice about selling reproductions. You have to sell a lot of tee shirts and mugs to equal the money you would make from the sale of just one original painting.

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