I got myself in trouble

Scene 1
In March, I saw a cool photo on flickr. I liked it. I output a print of it. Pretty, I said. Maybe I can collage on this someday...

Scene 2
In September, I am sitting at my desk working on the final pages of my collage story book. The flickr pic rises to the surface of my massive pile of ephemera and I like it. I put it down on the table and made a collage on top of it. Yay! The last page is done!

Scene 3
I am excited to have finished my book at last! I post the image to flickr. In order to show how the work I do evolves, I go thru the effort to look thru flickr and find the image that I used...and I post a link to it on flickr.

Scene 4
I get a comment from the photographer.
"i will be honest with you.
im glad that the photo moved you and inspired you, i also appreciate the credit in the page. however you should have asked for my permission before you used my picture. this photo is licensed "all rights reserved" and i love it very much.
you really should look if the photo is licensed for free using or not. i only allow several pictures to be "creative common" (that meens - free to use) and those are for the use of other artists. i also love contributing for other artists, and i have done it in the past.

it also looks quite strange that your license for this collage is "all rights reserved". because it's not. some of it are my rights.

im sorry to say, but this is my art, and this photo is quite significant for me, it is mine to keep and to share, and i didn't share it. if i was to see the collage one day in a gallery, i would be very pissed.

i was ofended in the begining, but now im okay.

i allow you to use it, just for this time and cause, because i see you use it for a good cause, and that creation and art matters to you.
however, i do not grant you permission to use this photo for commercial needs. that meens you can't sell the photo or art with the photo in any way, or exhibit it outside of flickr.

i can only advise you - next time be conciderate of the artists you want to use their materials. it meens much, because an artist gives birth to his creation, and to the artist, the art piece is significant as a child sometimes.

i wish you wisdom."

(I am removing the names of people so that I don't upset anyone. This post is for principles only)

Scene 5
My blood pressure rises. My hands start shaking. I have to settle down in order to even think about this. I hastily typed this reply:

"I am really kind of puzzled over your response, let me be honest.

I do collage art and I am Never going to worry about the ownership of an image. I am transforming, and changing the view of everything I see in my work. I found the image intriguing. I output it. I used it. No one "owns" a view, regardless of what they may think.

I didn't have to announce to the world that it came from you. I certainly don't do that for the other thousands of images I use!!! That would be insane and quite frankly unproductive for a collage artist. I was trying to show how the creation process grows, from one "visual image" to another....

I am hereby trashing the art. Throwing out the page. Removing it from my flickr. I will now find something else that intrigues me, this time from my own repertoire, which by the way I used for the other 150 pages in this book. You, are gone.Your image, keep it.

As for rights? I don't look at the rights when I post my images. It goes up on default.

Sorry. this was a bummer."

Scene 6
Now I am posting this here, so I can elaborate, explore and figure out my dilemma!

I did delete the image and I won't use it in the book, I mean it is tainted for me at this point, certainly not a pleasurable ending to a book I have spent 4 years on. I don't want to open my book every single time and get annoyed at the last page.
I admit I have a problem with copyright. I don't think like everyone else. I am not into "possessions." I would never blatantly verbatim copy anything from anyone and claim it as mine. We ALL know that is wrong. But I DO blatantly observe, gather, and cull images from everywhere and anywhere in order to create my own artwork. If I couldn't, how could I collage? I would be forced to use plain papers with no image, and doesn't this limit creativity just a tad???? I paint with papers. Period.
I don't know really how to cope this this issue. I am hoping for insight, feedback...something to help me with this concept of ownership, cuz i just got slapped!!
As for the last page of the book, well now..there isn't one. I have to go back to the drawing board, and re-create. My work is so DADA, I know I can't make another page just like that one, but I will create one similar...with another image of unknown origin, and I will find it just as satisfactory as the last one. No harm done.
Or is there?
Do I have to worry about every single snippet I use, for fear someone may be greedy and decide they "own" it? There are literally hundreds of thousands of snips in this book, certainly that would be impossible!!! What about things like vintage wallpaper..? Do I have to go research and find the manufacturer...ask permission to use it?? What about my precious book?? Will a publisher turn me down immediately on the grounds that it will be a shaky project with ownership issues?
Why can't I just be a painter!!!??? They have it easy!!


Charles Farrell said...


Great dialogue, on your way of seeing and creating your art.
As you know, "great art" is often about the process of the creation, over the finished product.
Thank you for your beautiful honesty. Let the destroyed piece be
a reminder of your freedom to create your art without limitations.

julie said...

I really thought about this overnight and stressed about it, since the very essence of my work requires the culling of images from elsewhere. This experience actually had me scared to create for a moment there!! But on retrospect, it just tells me maybe i am on the right track, since it is pushing buttons!!
Thanks for the support!

Neda said...

Julie, this is an issue which concerns us all: if the basis of our art is collage, then all "ownership" is negated by the very nature of our craft which subverts and deconstructs other works (as Plato said: art is interpretation of an interpretation of what's real" or something like that...). Don't give up! Long live collage!!

Anonymous said...

The person whose image you used seemed very reasonable. To use someone else's art without asking permission first is stealing. Sorry I am a collage artist too but we must be careful to do things in a way that shows respect to others and their work and copyrights. Posting it on the internet even in part and even with citing the source is wrong.

Mick said...

A very sticky issue here as you've found out. Lawyers will tell you one thing, the ethical another and the court still another thing if it ever comes to that step for an artist. The crux of the issue is whether or not a work is "transformative". Few collage artists use an entire work in a transformed piece but, even if they did, it's the smaller part of the greater transformation. Sadly, one judge may see the distinction one way, the next may see it another.

No one I know is saying that taking a "whole" work to use and profit from it untouched is proper - either ethically or legally. For the artist, the transformation is a NEW creation and not stealing, not infringing in any way.

It was Walt Disney who did the first stealing and then spent the rest of his life securing a hammer-lock copyright on Steamboat Willie cum Mickey Mouse! When the blood stops boiling over this, remember to boycott ALL THINGS Disney. Then get to work changing the copyright laws back to something truly fair and equitable in the age we live in.


Julie, I would have really wanted to see the image you created here. Still have it somewhere? Post it. It will exist in digital format.

Art is made for being reused.

I can't tell you how many times I've met people who say I love your work, I've printed it out and have it hanging all over my house. Never saw a dime from that. I refuse to be upset about it.

Good post...

MR/Paris, France

Alain said...

Anonymous wrote: "The person whose image you used seemed very reasonable". He is not, he is hypocritical. As an artist, a "créateur", I don't understand the copyright issues. Keep on the good artwork, Julie.

Anonymous said...

Check out this web site for understanding copyright for collage.


I just don't see how you don't get that using someone's work should require you to get permission. I do collage as well and use work copyrighted under creative commons, public domain, create my own (photo, drawing etc) its really not that hard to find images to work with. The fact that copyright law is complex is no excuse for not trying to find sources that clarify it for you. I have more than a few of my own images on the internet - rest assured I would make a lot of noise if someone were to use them or alter them in any way. And yes, I post as anonymous - I have no desire to have you respond to me in the rude manner you responded to the person whose picture you stole. Learn copyright, learn respect.

___A place to find all kinds of information about collage.