Is it ethical to trace from copyrighted or other photos online using the pen tool/wacom?

Explorer ,
Apr 30, 2022 Apr 30, 2022

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While making a logo or flat design is it cheating to trace directly from the image? Or do you have to sketch it first

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Apr 30, 2022 Apr 30, 2022

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Hi @vl14191867 

Unfortunately, we cannot give you legal advice here in the forum.

 

In principle, however, you can assume that editing copyrighted images is prohibited.

However, you can always contact the creator of the image or the copyright holder and ask for written permission or a licence.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Apr 30, 2022 Apr 30, 2022

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Images are copyrighted. Depending on the country of origin (not your origin), you don't even need to register them for being protected.

 

Doing a vector version of them just for your own fun is no problem, but be careful when you publish it or even sell it. Using other peoples' art as inspiration is OK, but directly tracing it (even if you sketch it first) is asking for trouble.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Apr 30, 2022 Apr 30, 2022

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Cheating? No. Do what you need to do; Whatever works.

But as far as the legal aspects of it, yes, this is too complicated to even suggest a definitive answer for you.

If you are just using an image as reference, that's one thing ("oh, I want to draw a bird shape so I am tracing this from this photo I found online" kinda thing) but creating a work that is more directly a derivative copy of a work of someone else, that's IS violating the original creator's copyright if you do it without permission. In a broad sense, that copyright holder also retains copyright on all derivatives... including yours. For instance, say you wanted to do a high-contrasty Warhol-esque image of a famous Annie Liebowitz photo of Robert Deniro, you'd be very likely in trouble (actually, Warhol himself has run into many issues over this)

It's waaaay more complicated than this, of course, but it's wise to tread carefully, and it would be a deep legal morass to determine whether your use is infringement or would be covered under fair use.

 

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Advocate ,
Apr 30, 2022 Apr 30, 2022

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If you're creating a logo or some other kind of graphical image to use on any professional, paid basis it's unwise to trace directly from a single source image unless that source image was taken/created by you or you have permission from the copyright owner of that photograph. People do this all the time, thinking no one will care or no one will notice. 40 years ago when most of this work was still being done the analog way that might have been easily possible. Today it's pretty easy to expose infringing works with a simple web search. Google Images is a heck of a thing for that.

Going back to times long before personal computers many illustrators relied on source images for elements in their artwork. The trick is they often used multiple reference images in order to draw or paint something new, anything from an inanimate object to a caricature of a celebrity. There is no clear black/white line on what amounts to copyright infringement of a photograph used as a source image in a new piece of artwork. It's a subjective call. If you can clearly see the "DNA" of the source photograph in the finished piece of new artwork then that is a problem.

 

On an upaid, hobbyist level or just doing something for fun there's nothing wrong with practicing one's pen tool techniques on some fun, favorite images. When I was a teenager I really liked Pat Nagel's artwork, even though it could be dismissed by art critics as a form of shopping mall schtique. Every mall frame shop had Nagel images all over the place in the 1980's. Anyway, I practiced on a couple of his illustrations, such as the one he made for Duran Duran's Rio album cover. The conversion work took some time and was a bit of fun, but there's nothing I can do with the end result other than various forms of unpaid personal use.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
May 01, 2022 May 01, 2022

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With the lawsuit that happened over the Obama Hope poster (it was based on a photo that was not the artist's), it shows that it's not a good idea to base your work too closely on someone else's photo without a license. Obama Hope Poster Lawsuit


— Adobe Certified Expert & Instructor at Noble Desktop | Web Developer, Designer, InDesign Scriptor

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