Author Topic: cover art plagiarism question  (Read 1071 times)  

Offline rockondon

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cover art plagiarism question
« on: December 08, 2017, 05:02:27 PM »
So I hired artist #1 and he made a stunning cover for book 1. He gave me the photoshop file of the pic and when I asked him if I could alter sizes and positions of certain layers, he said "Go ahead. As far as I'm concerned, that art is yours." He's amazing but sadly, he's too expensive for me to hire again.

Then I hired artist #2. I found him on this site; he seems quite reputable and has a great portfolio.

After I described what I wanted (an underwater bone frigate in a deep sea landscape), artist #2 drew a ship I was dissatisfied with but I was happy with the rest (which is copy/pasted I'm sure, but that's fine by me. I expect that). So I asked him to make the ship like the one on a previous book cover.

Then he sends me a new pic that's absolutely stunning. I love it except for one thing, the ship is basically a cut and paste of artist #1's ship, flipped horizontally and with some minor alterations (although the sails are completely redone and look great). If it was a typical frigate it might not be so obvious, but this ship is unique and distinctive (It's made from a dragon skeleton. Click the link for Seahaven if you want to see it- it's gorgeous).

All I wanted was an attractive cover and I'm fine with an artist taking shortcuts (assuming the images are free to use), but now I'm wondering about legal issues. Am I on the hook for plagiarism if I use this cover?

Offline Lynn Is A Pseudonym

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2017, 05:16:12 PM »
First question to ask is if Artist #1 illustrated the ship from scratch or if it was an illustration built on top of a stock art illustration. Basically, you want to know what's the provenience of the piece and did Artist #2 take that same stock art piece and make a new frigate with new sails.

That's really best case scenario in my mind.

The other possibility is probably what you're thinking: Artist #2 took the image and reused it.

And that--unless you were granted rights to make derivative works or he received permission for the use from the original artist--would not be good.

And to be honest, if I discovered it was the second, I don't think I'd work with the artist and would probably ask for my money back in this particular instance because it's work delivered in bad faith.

I would pursue an explanation before making any decisions. I definitely wouldn't want to harm someone's reputation or use something that could be infringing on someone else's copyright based on guesses alone.

Offline Tizzy

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2017, 05:18:39 PM »
Depends on the terms of your contract with artist #1.

He made the original drawing, but if the contract specified it was done as "work for hire," then all rights over the illustration belong to you. And if they belong to you, then you can use any and all parts of it as you see fit. Since artist said "as far as I'm concerned, that art is yours" I'd believe that to be the case.

Otherwise, if the contract stated something different (like you getting permission to use it on your cover but not for anything else, so if you wanted to use that same illustration to sell posters you'd have to ask for permission), then you'd be in hot water for plagiarism.

Online Paranormal Kitty

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2017, 05:22:12 PM »
You won't get in trouble. You bought the artwork; you can use it how you like (barring any specific terms you may or may not have agreed to). The only way plagiarism would come into play is if the second artist was taking credit for the whole design (using it in a portfolio or for a contest, for example), but that would be the artist's issue and not yours. Clients at my old job often asked for something they had done by another artist previously to be re-created.

Offline Lynn Is A Pseudonym

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #4 on: December 08, 2017, 05:35:57 PM »
Depends on the terms of your contract with artist #1.

He made the original drawing, but if the contract specified it was done as "work for hire," then all rights over the illustration belong to you. And if they belong to you, then you can use any and all parts of it as you see fit. Since artist said "as far as I'm concerned, that art is yours" I'd believe that to be the case.


Excellent point, but I would definitely want that to be in writing. Work for hire contracts have to be pretty specific, if I'm not mistaken. You definitely can't just assume.

You won't get in trouble. You bought the artwork; you can use it how you like (barring any specific terms you may or may not have agreed to). The only way plagiarism would come into play is if the second artist was taking credit for the whole design (using it in a portfolio or for a contest, for example), but that would be the artist's issue and not yours. Clients at my old job often asked for something they had done by another artist previously to be re-created.

I would be really careful with this. I am almost 100% sure that any cover art illustration is not up for grabs for use unless you've gotten permission from the original artist, except as a cover image. That illustration is copyright protected to the original artist except in cases of work for hire.

As soon as you're not using the design as a cover image then you're into rights issues. So it would be okay to use the cover on a T-shirt or some such thing you've put together for fans, but not to pull the ship out of the art and sell T-shirts with it on there. That would require rights you might not have, and if you do it, you could be sued for copyright infringement. That would seem to apply to the use of the ship as a base for the design of a different ship on a different cover.

The easiest way to deal with this is to ask the parties involved. They're business people--surely they won't balk at answering a few very important questions. :)

Anyway, good luck figuring it all out. :)

Offline J. Tanner

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2017, 06:37:32 PM »
You won't get in trouble. You bought the artwork; you can use it how you like (barring any specific terms you may or may not have agreed to).

My experience is that most artists license their work for use, even if it's exclusive, not sell it outright. An individual agreement could be different but I wouldn't count on it without reviewing the original contract or contacting the original artist for clarification.

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Offline LilyBLily

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2017, 06:55:37 PM »
It totally depends on the origin of the first artwork.

If the first artist bought a nonexclusive license for the ship part of the cover, the second might have gone out and bought one, too. I have seen--we all have seen--exactly the same popular photos on cover after cover after cover. Altered or not altered, the point is they each started with the same nonexclusive license. They aren't copying each other.

It's a very different scenario if the ship was an original drawing by the first artist. Then you have a moral issue.


Offline rockondon

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2017, 10:44:15 PM »
I think it's worth mentioning that although the original artist drew the ship from scratch and said "that art is yours as far as I'm concerned" (after I asked about altering the size/position of things) I spoke to him on the phone once and asked him about the limitations and he said that he didn't want me to make alterations "such as putting a mustache on the mermaid."

Online Monique

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2017, 10:57:42 PM »
No advice to offer other than what's already been said, but dayam, that's awesome art on Seahaven.

Monique Martin | author website | facebook | twitter

Offline Melody Simmons

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2017, 04:44:07 AM »
If the ship was drawn from scratch the artist has copyright of that ship, just as any piece of original art or writing would automatically be protected by copyright.  Unless you had an agreement with the artist that gives you the full rights.  Best would be to ask him/her if you have permission to include the ship or variations thereof in future covers.

Offline RBC

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #10 on: December 09, 2017, 11:06:19 AM »
You won't get in trouble. You bought the artwork; you can use it how you like (barring any specific terms you may or may not have agreed to). The only way plagiarism would come into play is if the second artist was taking credit for the whole design (using it in a portfolio or for a contest, for example), but that would be the artist's issue and not yours. Clients at my old job often asked for something they had done by another artist previously to be re-created.

Not true if artist used stock images... no one can re-sell stocks and most often we designers use Standard Licenses which limit where they can be used (no POD for mugs, t-shirts etc).


OP, if the original ship is 100% created by the first designer, just ask him about it. He will most likely allow it. :)

Offline veinglory

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Re: cover art plagiarism question
« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2017, 12:35:28 PM »
Bottom line, you will probably need to ask Artist #1. Giving you the art to modify as you like for one particular use is not necessarily giving you the copyright to it to use as you wish.