Can I copy a pattern from an art work

Any topic not covered elsewhere.
Post Reply
New Member
New  Member
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2015 7:05 am

Can I copy a pattern from an art work

Post by Audrey »

This is complicated, need to make a bit of money from my art. I am always looking for 3d looking patterns, often geometric. I make my own up mostly. However sometimes I scan the Internet for inspiration from others work. The sort of thing I like is sort of Escher (ish) and most are common patterns. So I use google images and if I see a bit of pattern I like I would like to use it confidently. I would never reproduce another persons work, but I scared myself thinking I might be infringing some law by looking for patterns within other people's work that I like, so I never sell anything.
A Dab Hand
User avatar
Posts: 2914
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:43 am

Post by AndyJ »

Hi Audrey,

From what you have said, you appear to only use other people's artwork as inspiration, which is not at all the same as copying (of the sort which would infringe copyright, anyway). The basic rule of copyright is that ideas alone cannot be protected. It is not until the expression of the idea is fixed in some way that a work becomes subject to copyright.

The problem is that you are not hearing about other people's ideas as abstract ideas, you are looking at the expression of their idea and that is when it becomes trickier to draw the line between, on one hand direct facsimile copying and the other, encapsulating the underlying idea in a totally new expression.

The law says that infringement occurs when a substantial part of the original work is copied. Substantiality here is measured in terms of those qualities which make the work special, and the way in which it is a reflection of the author or artist's creative personality. To that extent, the more unusual or bizarre the original, the more difficult it is likely to be to express the same idea in an entirely new and unique way second time around. Conversely, the more generic, banal and widely-used an idea is, the less is the need to reproduce it in a novel way just to avoid infringement.

Well-known cartoon characters provide a good example of what I mean. Everyone recognises Mickey Mouse, but if you can visualise in your mind the unique characteristics which make Mickey recognisable, and which separate him from other well-known cartoon mice, then you will have isolated what constitutes the substantial part of Mickey Mouse which is protectable.

If you have a particular style, say using a particular palette of colours, or graphic method, say pen and ink, paint brush or computer graphics, then rendering the patterns you find in your own style will tend to diminish the amount of the spirit of the other work which you transpose into yours.

To take Escher as an example, many of his works incorporated optical illusion, but rendered in a graphic style similar to that of a engraver or nineteenth century illustrator. If you are more drawn (excuse the pun) to the subject matter of Escher's work, then rendering his ideas in a modern, or at least alternative, way would not tend to be seen as infringement (since Escher only died in 1972 his work is still in copyright). However if you like his style of rendering, then applying Escher's style to patterns created by other artists will again put some distance between your work and theirs.

The art world is full of works which have been inspired by earlier works, such that I suspect it is hard to find a truly unique and novel artistic work. Indeed traditionally art schools would encourage students to study the work of the masters within particular fields of art, in order to gain understanding of what makes their work good. To that extent being subliminally influenced is almost inevitable. What is more, artists tend to understand that this how the art world functions and so are much less likely to be upset by seeing elements of their work being recycled or adapted in someone else's work.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
Post Reply