You’re right that there is a fine
line between being inspired
by the work of another artist
and copying that artist’s work
to the point of committing copyright infringement.
It is important to note at the outset that
plagiarism refers to a violation of academic
norms, which require crediting an author
whenever his or her work or ideas are used.
By contrast, copyright infringement refers to
the unauthorized copying of a creator’s work
without permission, regardless of whether
or not credit is given. You can infringe copyright directly by republishing, posting, displaying, modifying or claiming a photograph
as your own. In addition, you can infringe a
copyright by recreating a photograph or taking elements of it and making a derivative
work (some copying may be permitted under
a doctrine of fair use but is outside the scope
of this answer). The potential consequences
of plagiarism and copyright infringement are
much different as well. Whereas plagiarism
may violate an academic institution’s ethical
codes, unauthorized copying violates federal
copyright law. Copyright lawsuits can be long
and expensive processes, often with unpredictable outcomes.
To qualify as infringement, the artist must
have had access to your work in order to rec-
reate copyrightable elements. It is possible to
independently create an image that is similar
to another photographer’s work, and inde-
pendent creation is a defense to copyright
infringement. If the first work is well known,
however, or has been widely distributed, it
may be difficult for him or her to claim that he
or she never saw the prior work.
Assuming access to a prior work, a photographer can still create an original image if he or
she is only inspired by the idea depicted in the
prior image and recreates the idea using his or
her own creative choices. Copyright law does
not protect ideas—rather, it only protects the
I found a
that looks like
mine. Is that plagiarism?
It seems like there
is a fine line between
inspiration and illegal
Is It Legal?
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And then it dawned on us ...
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June 25 - July 7, 2017
The Digital Photographer’s Toolbox: Two-Week Program
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July 9–21, 2017
The Poetry of Light: Two-Week Program
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July 16–28, 2017
Visual Storytelling for the Screen: Two-Week Program
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Educational Partners: Nikon & Epson
© Josh Withers
SNAPSHOTS: Is It Legal?
It is possible to
independently create an
image that is similar to
another photographer’s work,
and independent creation
is a defense to copyright