Blog / 2020 / How to Love Your Art #13: Don’t Claim the Copyright on Your Work

April 23, 2020

The “how to love your art” blog series has covered a variety of topics so far. There’s been emotional stuff like figuring out a structure for your art, and there’s been practical subjects like documenting your art, inventorying it, giving it away, and charging a bunch for it. Today’s post touches on both the practical and the emotional, because, while copyright is supposed to be about the business of art, more often than not it gets tied up in our fears about our creativity.

Questioning copyright is the best way I know to fall in love with your art and stay in love with it too.

Copyright causes stress:

  1. from not understanding the law well enough to feel confident about how you are employing it
  2. from fearing that other people will use your art
  3. from fighting with those who steal your art
  4. from feeling guilty when you realize that you use other people’s art for inspiration now and again, but you don’t always credit them

And where there is stress, love and confidence do not flourish. That’s why I am convinced that copyright is the single most common source of self-doubt for artists. So let’s fix this! We can knock down each stresser, one at a time:

  1. Learn about copyright.
  2. There are a ton of resources for approaching this from a pro-copyright position, but my favorites from the question copyright camp are the documentary RIP: A Remix Manifesto, Lawrence Lessig’s book Free Culture, and mine, You Share Good.

  3. Use Creative Commons licenses.
  4. This is for every artist who’s ever told me: “I don’t care if other artists are inspired by what I do, but I don’t want someone to make a bunch of money off my work.” These licenses separate out the different rights contained within copyright, and allow you to tell people which ones you actually want to claim.

  5. Embrace those who use your art.
  6. Make love, not war! This short video explains how you can stop hating on the people who make money off your art.

  7. Cite your sources.
  8. Making the effort to recognize where you find inspiration means you never have to be worried someone will come along yelling about how you stole from them. You’ll know without a shadow of a doubt that you did not copy too much from another artist.

lobster painting process

I use other artists’ work to make my art all the time. In fact, I did it with this lobster! I combed through hours of footage of these crustaceans in their natural habitat until I found a video of one seeming to fly down to the seabed. The lobster looked like some otherworldly superhero to me, and I knew I wanted to make this painting using a still from that scene.

If I don’t publicly cite the videographer who shot the footage, it’s because they do not use Creative Commons licences and I don’t know how litigious they are. I feel good about the way I transformed their work, but I have neither the money nor the desire to go to court over copyright.

Instead, all my desire gets to be focused on my art. By questioning copyright, I get to concentrate on the stuff that matters to me! And I get to do it with confidence because I understand copyright law, I place all my art directly in the public domain, I try to befriend people who use my art, and I’m pretty good about keeping track of where my artistic ideas come from.

lobster painting, wildlife art
Gwenn Seemel
L Is for Lobster
acrylic on panel
14 x 14 inches

The first names embedded in L Is for Lobster are Lacey, Laquan, LauraJo, Lauren, Lawrence, Layla, Leigh, Leo, Leroy, Levi, Liam, Liberty, Lillian, Lily, Lindsay, Lisa, Lisette, Logan, Lorraine, Lucas, Lucille, Lucinda, Lulu, Luna, Lupita, and Lyra.

The original lobster painting is for sale for $1500 plus shipping. If you want prints or other pretty items with this image, check out my Redbubble shop! It’s part of an upcoming ABC book that will be available later this year.

lobster art
detail of L Is for Lobster

Here’s what I’ve been reading since my last alphabet book update:

  • The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

    The compelling, funny, and totally devastating memoir of love, addiction, and fertility made me feel better about life. Levy made me see that part of the artist’s struggle is to sometimes avoid making art out of the things that happen to you, or at least to do it more slowly.

  • Space Opera by Catherynne M Valente

    Reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this novel was sure to please me. The audio version is delightful!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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