Copyright Protection or Nothing New in the World

When it comes down to teaching your art, you find yourself in one of two worlds: the kind where you protect your copyright avidly, not handing out how-to sheets for fear of having them stolen or shrugging it off and saying, “everything is derivative anyway. I got my ideas from someplace else, too.”

Those ideas lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I’d like to introduce a third idea, maybe a fourth.

First, let me admit I’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum. I was not happy when a fellow artist came into my booth, years ago, took photos of my work, claiming it was because she “loved my display,” then rolled out a line of stunningly similar artwork the next season, priced just below mine.

Nor was I happy when I was in a class on a topic I’d taught often, and was hoping to get out of a rut, and was handed a how-to sheet that looked stunningly familiar. It was familiar, in fact, it was my handout, complete with copyright on the bottom line, photocopied for the entire class.

At some point I decided that everything I taught, every article I published should be something I had already taught to exhaustion, or I was ready to give up. But part of the fun of teaching is getting inspired by students. Would I have to give it up?

Now, I am careful to copyright my work. I send it to the copyright office once a quarter, with payment. That allows me to sue for damages for violators. But I also don’t want to be the copyright police. And I want to promote innovation and creativity. If I do not want anyone to know what I’m working on, I don’t post it anyplace. Or talk about it.

People will always explore, and people will always use what they find. Gracious people ask, kind people give credit. But if you teach, no one can teach the way you do. Your personality combined with your skill and talent make your class. And people will come to your class because you are welcoming and a good teacher. No one can take that from you.

-Quinn McDonald teaches what she knows.


Giving Credit

Of course you can protect your work with a copyright notice. And you can take the additional step and protect it with the U.S. Government, so you can sue a violator not only for use, but for damages. (You can’t sue for damages unless you register your work.)

Tree of Life, Klimt. No longer under copyright. Image from

Tree of Life, Klimt. No longer under copyright. Image from

Giving credit openly and freely would make most copyright unnecessary. Giving credit is not a boring obligation, it is a smart way to get your name known. To be more visible on the internet. Giving credit makes you look smart, but even better, helpful.

How does it work? Simple. When you use a photo from Flickr, Creative Commons (following their rules first), or mention a book, a quote, or an idea that is not yours, tell your readers where it came from. And not just whose work it is, but where you found it. For example, if you find an image of Klimt’s on a website by butterycrumpets (on Let’s Draw Sherlock!, for example) it becomes a different story than if you find a Kimt image on Wikipedia. The context is different, and the story you have to tell about it is different.

A different kind of tree. A Palo Verde whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift into desert snow this time of year.

A different kind of tree. A Palo Verde whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift into desert snow this time of year.

Context changes emotions and opinions, and when you leave breadcrumbs for people to follow, you open up a whole new path for people who are curious and interested in more than knowing where to take the next Kimt image from.

When you give credit, you become the person in charge of information, and people will think of you as a good resource. (Not a bad way to be thought of.)

When you give credit, you also share information, and as Annie Dillard warns, “Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Giving credit makes you look generous. That includes techniques you learn in a class, ideas you came up with (but find that others share, too), and shortcuts that make you look smart.

Why share? Because it makes the world more interesting, more expansive, and encourages other people to share your ideas and class tips. And to quote Annie Dillard again (Goodreads is wonderful for finding quotes):

“There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscience, so apparently moral…But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.” ― Annie Dillard

–Quinn McDonald is surprised how many people think clutching information to their chest is a way to become smarter. Every teacher knows that you learn by teaching.

Collage, Creativity, and Copyright

An entire classroom of people bent over their artwork today, placing painted pieces of paper onto an underpainting in the technique we learned from Elizabeth St. Hilare Nelson. Using the paper we painted yesterday, we tore, shredded, and ripped pieces no bigger than a quarter and glued them onto the underpainting. At points in the day, my fingers were numb, coated with glue from pressing the work flat. At other times, my shoulders cramped from the concentration of bending over the work.

And at the end of the day, here’s the apple. Everything you see is paper glued onto a canvas board. No underpainting is showing.

I have a few corrections to fiddle with tomorrow morning. I want to extend the shadow under the apple just slightly on the right side tucking it under a bit more. And on the wall behind the apple, in the upper right-hand corner, there’s a bit too much unbroken blue–a piece too big. It needs to have a smaller piece placed on it to make the blue look more like a part of the rest of the wall.

appleThe parts I like are the words hidden in the collage and the gold threads defining the curve of the apple.  Sheets from my journal went into the work, as well as stamped words, done for pattern. That is going to become the way I make this technique mine–adding texture through words and letters. Tomorrow–on to the more difficult koi image.

While I was thinking of putting this piece on my blog, I was thinking of copyright again. With artists showing their work on the web, and more people caring about speed and less about giving credit and accuracy, it’s hard to own your own artwork and writing.

On one hand, most artists and writers don’t want to be so private that none of their work is seen. On the other hand, no artist or writer wants to see their work claimed by someone else. Not much better is seeing your work on Pinterest or on another blog with no link back to your website or blog. Mash-ups and sampling are popular, giving credit and linking back, not so much.

Copyright won’t protect you from theft, and it’s often hard to find the person responsible for a blog in order to contact them and ask them to give you credit or remove your work.

The DIY Doyenne has an excellent blog on the matter. Margot Potter, better known as Madge has some great ideas. KevinandAmanda will help you discover if your photos are being used on other blogs.  If you are searching for the original source so you can give credit (thank you!), you can use the tips from The Graphics Fairy.

To protect your work with a watermark, Madge suggests using the easy directions at Picmarkr or Stipple. And after passing on all that great information on Madge’s blog, I should mention that Madge has a pdf book out called The Fine Art of Shamelss Self-Promotion. Because unless we promote our own work, it’s a slim chance anyone else will.

Quinn McDonald may never get all the glue off her fingers.

Who Owns the Inner Critic?

Hardly had I announced the new book would deal with the inner critic, when the emails started to come in. People letting me know that there was someone else teaching a class on the inner critic, another one saying that they had taken a class with someone who had a chapter in her book about the inner critic. Still another who reminded me that “inner critic” belonged to Julia Cameron, Martha Beck, and a host of other people who have used the term some where, some time.

Big, deep breath. I know. The term “inner critic” is a generic term for that voice we all have that yammers about what we are missing, what we don’t have, and how we are not enough.

I did not invent the inner critic–he (or she) comes built-in to your brain, courtesy hundreds of  thousands of years of evolution. I did not invent the name “Inner Critic,” Byron Brown has used it since he wrote Soul Without Shame, in 1998. Before that, Hal Stone wrote Embracing Your Inner Critic in 1993, and Matthew Ignoffo wrote Coping With Your Inner Critic in 1989. So, the term has been around a while.

But let’s scratch the itch, here. I know about copyright, but copyright doesn’t preclude me  (or you, or 300 yodeling unicorns) from writing a book about the inner critic. The inner critic is a concept, an idea, and ideas don’t qualify for copyright.

Learn to make this apple pie, complete with micro-lattice from

Imagine what it would be like if there were one book on apple pie, or, for that matter, one recipe for apple pie. One, and done. Maybe, if you are generous, one open pie, one lattice pie, one deep-dish, and one streusel.  Or one book on journaling, one book on watercolor. Libraries would be tiny. My bookcases would take up a lot less of my house,  and Cooking Man’s collection (now numbering close to 300 cookbooks) would be down to just one.

Incidentally, here is Country Home’s recipe that claims to be the best apple pie ever. And here are 15 more “best” apple pie recipes from Country Living. The one with salted pecan topping looks pretty good. And the orange-spiced, streusel-topped, cream-enriched Dutch apple pie looks yummy, too. And while I’m on a tear, streusel doesn’t rhyme with doozle, it comes from the German word for scatter (streuen) and it rhymes with Roy-zell. I think I’m done now.

Those three books I mentioned above deal with the inner critic, just as mine will. But each offers a different method, as mine will. And then there is the idea that a lot of books on the same topic allows a lot of perspectives. A lot of solutions. A lot of right answers. Because there is not only more than one answer, there is more than one right answer. And I’m looking to add another.

-Quinn McDonald is writing again. But she’s got her mind on apple pie.

Copyright: Orphan Works Act Update

I’ve posted information on the Orphan Works Act before. This time, I am posting something that Art Calendar has because it is complete already. I copied it verbatim from Art Calendar, rather than simply provide a link, so you wouldn’t have to click again. And because I think it’s important.

Here is the article on the Orphan Works Act Update:

UPDATE: As of May 28, creative professionals across the country have joined together to travel to Washington DC June 3, 4 and 5 to share their concerns about the Orphan Works Act with legislators. You can find more information about this and other ways to help at the new Orphan Works Opposition Headquarters site, .

On April 24, Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced legislation (S.2913, HR 5889), which is now being referred to as the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. It is virtually the same bill that was presented in 2006, and subsequently rejected by Congress. But now, they are trying again.

If passed, the Act would radically alter copyright laws, taking away the automatic copyright now guaranteed to artists of all types who create any type of work. Right now, under U.S. law, you are automatically guaranteed copyright on everything you create, from the sketches in your sketchpad to your best paintings and sculptures. Under the Orphan Works Act, every creator will be required to register everything he or she creates in a private registry system, requiring a fee of course, and supposedly to make it easier for the “public” to search for works and contact the creators if they want to use the works for some purpose. Everything created in the last 30 years will need to be registered through this as-yet nonexistent system, including those works already registered via additional fees with the copyright office. If they aren’t, and some member of the public makes “due diligence” to find the creator of a work and can’t find him or her, that member of the public is entitled to use the work without any limitations, and artists will have no legal recourse. That means every piece of work you have out there, especially online, would be open season for use by major publishing houses and businesses (Microsoft — who owns one of the largest online image databases — and Google have already voiced support for the bill and indicated they will use thousands of images) and everyone in between.

Proponents of the bill say it will assist the public in identifying and contacting creators of works and going through the proper channels to contact them to ask for permission. While we understand the need for an organized system of search, there are MAJOR FLAWS in the proposed bill that need to be addressed before any such proposal should take place. Here are a few points:
∑ Under this law, you would need to register every piece of work you create, including those works that you have already registered with the Copyright Office officially, in some system that does not exist and would likely require you to pay to do so. The time and cost to do this is going to be prohibitive for visual artists.
∑ While this is meant to apply to all types of creative works, including music and literary, visual artists will be impacted the most because of the sheer volume of work we create, making it very expensive to register everything you have ever created or will create.
∑ For the visual arts, there would still be little protection for you and your work, even if it is registered, because search tools would rely on names of artists or titles of work, and not image recognition tools, which are still in their infancy of development.
∑ Under this law, if you register your work, you would have to respond to EVERY inquiry sent to you for use of the work. So in other words, if you have a work out there in a registry system, and some person contacts you and says he wants to use your work for free on his Web site or in his new catalog, you would need to take the time to officially respond to every inquiry within a specified time limit, letting him know if you do not want to have him publish your work for free. This will take a lot of time and effort that we, as professional artists, do not have.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill, and yesterday, May 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee did as well. This means the bill will be presented to Congress, likely before the end of May.

We need you to write to your representatives ASAP and let them know that you do NOT want this bill to be expedited, as it is now. Tell them we need a better solution, or tell them you don’t want it at all: Just be sure to tell them something soon. Click the links below to get more information on the bill, including a video that gives you a great overview of the artists’ concerns:

Click below for several options of pre-written and editable letters that you can fill out, and that will automatically identify and send it to your representatives when you enter your address:

Collage: Sampling Art

Collage is a flexible, satisfying art form. It’s particularly gratifying for artists who are not illustrators. Using the vast palette of magazines, journals, books, graphic novels, and newspapers, we create stories, convey emotions and display ideas.

dreamleaf, collage by quinn mcdonaldThe issue of copyright lurks in the background. Those images might be someone else’s. Early photographers faced similar issues– photographers who took pictures that included buildings were told they needed to get permission first. And before we shrug that away as ancient art history, it was not too many years ago that the first camera phones caused concern because people were secretly taking pictures in bars without permission. Now the pictures arrive on YouTube for the world to see, no permission needed. In our culture, sampling is part of creating music. Open source information gave us Wikipedia. The collaging of experience, ideas and words, gives us new songs and books. But sometimes time and contents aren’t in balance. In 1916 Heinz von Lichberg wrote about a traveler who rents a room as a lodger and is smitten with the young daughter of the homeowner. “Young” is the operative word here; she is not yet a teenager. A child molester? A story worth tipping off Dateline NBC? Not quite. The young girl’s name was Lolita, and so was the title of the book. Surprised? I was, too. It was published a full 40 years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel made the name Lolita famous–and vice versa. Johnathan Lethem, in an article in Harper’s, says, “Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. . .” So life imitates collage. We hear and see snippets of information and they become the wallpaper of our lives. In May of 1996 folksinger/songwriter Bob Dylan wrote “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” which contained the much-discussed line, “To live outside the law you must be honest.” Oddly enough, it caused no raised eyebrows at all eight years earlier, when Stirling Silliphant wrote almost the same words for Don Siegel’s film noir, The Lineup.

So the collage artist stands in the middle of a loud, chaotic life with scissors and glue. We make sense of it by cutting it apart and reassembling it so that others can recognize it and make meaning of it. Maybe we need to give up the idea of exclusive ownership based on lawsuits.

Maybe it’s time to take another look at copyright. Creative Commons seems like a good alternative worth exploration.

–Quinn McDonald is a collage artist and certified creativity coach who is thinking through a sharing system based on honesty instead of lawsuits. She did the collage above.  See her work at QuinnCreative.

Living (Happily) With Copyright

Last night I noticed a recent post getting a lot of looks. They all came from the same source, so I went over to see what the link was. It wasn’t a link, someone had taken the entire article and printed it on their site. Yes, there was a link to this site, and yes, I was credited. But whether it’s print, Internet, Blogosphere, or any other outlet, you may not take and reprint articles without the authors permission. I have that rule on the homepage and have a copyright notice often on the site.

We live in a world of “sampling” and “free use,” but material on the Internet is not free just because you can cut and paste. Recently some students took information and pictures from Facebook and YouTube and printed the images in their yearbook. They didn’t think they had done anything wrong.

Most students who take sentences, paragraphs and entire articles and use them in their own work don’t think they are cheating or doing anything wrong. But they are, on both counts.

Not too long ago, I interviewed a copyright attorney about copyrights of authors and writers. The article was published in Somerset Studio magazine. I retain the copyright. Here’s that article again.

Please note: This is not meant as legal advice. Copyright law is constantly changing, and I did not update this article, nor do I have plans to do so. Please consult your own attorney if you have questions.

Living (Happily) with Copyright Regulations

Get on any art forum and use the word “copyright” and out comes a rush of confusion, arguments and myth-information. To make sure I got the facts straight, I talked to Katharine Colgan, JD, a Bucks County, Pennsylvania writer with expertise in writers contracts and copyright law. So let’s set the record straight with some questions and answers:
1. What is copyright anyway?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to those who create “original works of authorship,” including literature, drama, music, jewelry, postcards, greeting cards, cartoons, puzzles, rubber stamps, original dance moves, and other intellectual works. If you can touch it, see it, hear it, save it to a hard drive, print it on paper, or put it on a CD, you can copyright it. And that includes the HTML code you write it with.

2. Does my work have to be published to have copyright protection?
No. Copyright protection is available to both published and unpublished works. This applies to artwork, too. A statue in a public garden is protected under copyright; you can’t take a picture, make a postcard and sell it without permission.

3. My work is under copyright when I create it, so why register it?
Because the only way you can sue and collect for damages is to register your work. Luckily, it is neither difficult nor expensive to register your work.

4. How do I register my work?

You can download forms from the government here:
Benedict Mahoney has a website that is both informative and simple to follow. You can download forms from this page ( and detailed instructions here Note that when you choose a form, TX, VA and PA do not stand for states but are the form for text, graphic (visual) and plays or radio scripts, respectively. As of this writing, the fee is $30, but it can change, so check.

5. I work for a company that sells cards. They asked me to create cards and I did. Who holds the copyright, the company or me?

According to Section 101 of the Copyright Law the company who hired you to create cards (or other original work) owns the copyright. If you are an independent contractor (freelancer), the work you do for others is not “work for hire” unless it falls within a few narrow exceptions for “specially commissioned” works—or you sign a “work-for-hire” contract that makes your client the author and not you.

6. If I buy a pattern, or a rubber stamp, can I use it?
Yes, of course, you can use it to make items for yourself. A website that sells patterns will also have rules about how you can use them. Sometimes those rules prohibit you from giving away items you make from the pattern, and you can certainly not make a copy of the pattern and sell or give it away. You also cannot make items from the pattern to sell for profit unless you have specific permission from the person/company who holds the copyright. (Note that asking the designer for permission may not be asking the copyright holder—see question 5.)

7. Copyright doesn’t apply to the Web, does it?
Yes, it does. What appears on someone else’s website is their material. You may not download it without permission. “Public domain” is not the same as “internet.” If you download something to your website, and your website has a copyright mark on it, you do not own the material you downloaded.

8. If the author is anonymous, the work is in the public domain and I can use it without attribution.

Maybe. If the work was created before 1923 and published in the United States and has not been attributed to someone, then it may be in the public domain. But even if the work is anonymous, if it was published in the United States after 1923 it remains under copyright for 120 years. If you get your own copyright, you and your heirs keep the copyright until you die plus an additional 70 years.

9. If I change it 10 (or 20) percent, it’s new work.
That idea has all the marks of an urban legend, but it’s not true. Any change of an idea that isn’t yours that doesn’t make a completely new and different idea is called “derivative” and is against copyright regulations. Also false: the idea that changing the color, changing the frame on a rubber stamp, or changing the clasp on a piece of jewelry makes it a new piece.

10. I can get around copyright laws because of the ‘fair use’ doctrine.

There is a ‘fair use’ exception in copyright law, but here is what it says you must be doing: parody, news reporting, research and education. What you must not be doing is making money from someone else’s work or ruining its commercial value.


The whole copyright law:
Check out specifics in Circular 1 and a good overview in Circular 40. Both are available as PDFs.

“Three Reasons to Get Copyright,” previously published on this blog.

Specific definitions of words

Plain language of the high points

10 Myths About Copyright Law Explained

(c) 2007, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. No reproduction, electronically or in any kind of print, without express written permission of the author.