Friday, November 2, 2012

Ethics And Art

With art, there are many ethical questions about what should and shouldn't be created. There is a grey line to mark "too far." Artists like to push the envelope right up to that line, and some go beyond it. I think most people know when the line has been crossed, and the vast majority of artists know how to not cross that line. But then there are some less obvious lines that are a little more grey.
Seascape Night - Princeton, Texas
Take the photograph above, which is an image of a painting. I cut out about three quarters of the painting to reveal what I believe is a stronger composition. But is it ethical to photograph someone else's art and call it my own?

This is even more complex. The painter is credited as W. Riley, who is not the name of the artist who painted this. A "ghost painter" copied a William Edward Riley painting. William Riley was a British painter in the 1800's and early 1900's. Most of his work is considered public domain, so it's not illegal to copy it. But is it ethical? Is it ethical to copy the copy?
Robot Boy - Amarillo, Texas
What about graffiti? More and more graffiti is considered a form of art, and as such, the artist automatically owns the copyrights to that art. A stock photography company that I sell photographs through won't accept images with graffiti unless the photographer has written permission from the graffiti artist. Did I step across an ethical line to create the above photograph?
Crazy Bird - Caliente, California
And what about the photograph above? It's a train car that also happens to have graffiti on it. Do I need to track down the malcontent who spray painted the bird and ask for permission? It's a grey line.
Man At Shoshone Point - Grand Canyon, Arizona
People can be off limits sometimes. A rule of thumb is to be on public property, don't make yourself a nuisance, and don't sale your photographs unless you have written permission from the person(s) in your image (unless there is no way to tell who the person is). Even so, it's a highly debated topic of what exactly is legal and what exactly is ethical.
McTower - Barstow, California
Are corporate logos and registered trademarks off limits? Should I have asked for McDonald's permission prior to capturing the above image? If someone wanted to purchase a print of it from me, do I then have to pay McDonald's a percentage of the profits?
Nevada Time - Hoover Dam, Nevada
Famous buildings and landmarks are sometimes off limits, too. Some businesses own the trademarks to the famous buildings in which their headquarters reside. You have every right to photograph them from public property, but don't sell your photographs unless you have written permission. The grey line here is knowing which buildings or landmarks have a trademark, because it can be difficult to find out.

These grey lines are not obvious, and it is difficult to know what is right or wrong, legal or illegal. My advice is to not worry about it unless you are are going to earn money from it. Once money is involved, it is entirely possible that someone will come after you looking for what they believe is their fair share. If you plan to sell your photographs, be sure to get written permission from whoever you need so that you are protected. It's better to be safe than sorry.

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