Art Photography – Legal Implications and Limitations

Creating artwork out of someone else’s photographs has legal implications, while taking photographs of someone else’s artworks has copyright limitations. Copyright laws cover a broad range of media as they intend to protect the right of an author, composer, creator or photographer to have control over authorship and ownership of an original work; regardless of whether the tangible medium has been published or not.

Important Things to Know When Using Photographs as Painting Reference

In the world of art, some artists simply base their painting on a photographed image taken by someone else, without knowing that doing so limits their right to exhibit or sell their creation. If a photo used as reference for a painting was not taken by the artist himself, putting the painting in public display and selling it will infringe on the copyright of the photographer who took the picture. Not unless, the photographer has given the artist express permission to reproduce a painted version of the photo in question.

Still, even if a painter has been given permission by the photographer, his or her painting cannot be considered as an original creation but only a derivative work. On the other hand, photographers cannot sell photographs of a person or give anyone permission to use photographs of models, without first securing a “model release” form signed by every model involved in the photography work

Portrait Painting or Photography and the Model Release Form

. .
Painting a portrait of a person also has limitations. Under copyright laws, it an artist intends to release a painted portrait for public exhibit and to subsequently sell it, the artist has to obtain a model release form signed by the person who modeled for the painting.

Even museums and galleries have to make sure that the necessary authorizations are already in order, before they put up an artwork for exhibit. In fact, most museums and art institutions do not always allow visitors to take photographs of their art exhibits. Aside from copyright laws, museums also take into consideration the potential effects of harsh flashing lights on some exhibits. More importantly, the flow of foot traffic in a museum can be hampered by visitors who pose to take selfies in front of displays.

Art Photography in Collaboration with Galleries and Museums

In art galleries, artists sign a contractual agreement with the gallery administrator since the purpose of the exhibit is to put the art work up for sale. As part of the contract, artists give the gallery authorization to reproduce prints or photos of their art pieces but only for marketing and advertising purposes. The authorization ends upon termination of a contract between the gallery and the artist.

While a gallery may hire a professional photographer to take pictures of the artworks in exhibit, the gallery retains the right to use the photographs only for marketing and promotional purposes. On the other hand, if a museum hires a photographer to make photo prints of their art exhibits, only the museum, with the permission of the artists concerned, has the right to sell the prints as souvenir items in the institution’s gift shop.

That is why in the field of professional photography, research work involves not only looking for the best full frame cameras or lenses to use when taking on professional engagements. There is also the matter of knowing the limitations imposed by copyright laws when it comes to capturing images of artistic works.