If not as a right, at least as a courtesy

Gordon Parks, Photograph – Copyright Eugene Pierce

When I received an email from artist Charles King, it was a surprise. Why would someone bother to ask permission to paint one of my photographs? If he had gotten a copy of the photo online and used it to create his painting,  it would’ve been just one more copyright violation of my work to be added to a long list of small blogs, newspapers or renown magazines that have repeatedly done the same.

In the electronic age, Copyright laws that protect an artist’s intellectual property rights have become less and less effective. In addition, the recent Orphan Works Act legislation allows “good-faith” users of copyrighted material to publish any work, as long as they performed a “diligent search” but cannot locate the copyright owner. These complexities, make it a challenge for many visual artists to protect their work today.

When I discover a copyright violation, my interest is not trying to make the highest profit, but only to be paid what would’ve initially cost if it had been negotiated with me in the first place. Instead, the response is usually one of resistance, claims of ignorance of the law, and in cases of large publications or corporations, stalling tactics that make legal cases so vastly expensive that do not allow working photographers, such as myself, to pursue a fair resolve of infringements of the laws that were originally intended to protect us.

It’s comforting to know that if not as a right, permission to use someone’s work at least exist as a courtesy among fellow artists.