Is This Inspiration or Plagiarism ?

Its a real fine line between inspiration and plagiarism, but where does that line live? In this video, I look at where I feel the line should be drawn, what is acceptable, what is rude, and what is simply wrong.

This video came about after a lot of direct messages on Instagram where I was told that various people had copied my work or where my work had been seen published in various places and folks wanted me to know in case it shouldn't have been. All of the above were from very well-meaning people, which I appreciate. 

Unfortunately. I have no idea where my work should be; that's why we have agents to manage this sort of thing. But when it comes to people copying my work, that is different, and I have a few views on this and things that I do in order to keep everything nice. 

In this video, I discuss when and why an idea switches from inspiration to theft, as well as look at how I deal with extreme plagiarism and also when photographers have taken my images and passed them off as their own on stock sites or in their portfolios to try to gain commercial clients. 

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8 Comments

Celso Mollo's picture

Ohhh come ooooon!!!! Enough with the plagiarism thing,

D M's picture

A quote from and illustrator whose style always being copied. "They can always copy what I've done, but not what I'm going to do."

Steve White's picture

I have no problems with someone learning by copying another style or image. The art museums of the world are filled with young students, pads and charcoals in hand, learning to draw by copying the masters.

The problem comes when one tries to take a copy or mirror image and pass it off commercially (in the broadest sense, for sale or on Instagram or in a competition, etc.), or claim that it is one's own style and not a copy. I think that's where it crosses the line.

We can be inspired and learn. If we pass off a copy of another person's work as our own, we have have learned technically about how to make that copy, but we sure haven't learned in the broader sense.

Indy Thomas's picture

The issue with photography is that it is hard to make an image that someone cannot say "I have seen that before".
I shoot architecture and while there are some definitely creative people out there, one has to accept that so much of what the client wants is what they have seen before.
Finding a novel view is a delight but we seldom get to choose what project we are called for.

Steven Gotz's picture

A great book on the subject is:

Photograph Like a Thief: Using Imitation and Inspiration to Create Great Images
by Glyn Dewis

Ivan Lantsov's picture

one print stolen from gallery wall - is comploment yes?

T Van's picture

Post Modernism....Nothing is original, it's all a derivative of what's been imagined before.

mark connelly's picture

Plagiarism is taking someone else's work or idea and passing it off as their own. As far as inspiration, that is more of a subconscious thing with or without a direct source. Except for communist countries and dictatorships, copyrights and trademarks are applicable in all democratic countries. The UK has plenty of intellectual property lawyers if one goes that route.

As far as the fine line of crossing between plagiarism and inspiration, that has to do with how court cases would treat the issue. As far as originality in photography, that depends on the genre. Remember that most photography is simply documenting a real thing on a flat surface. If the subject is a person, a natural object, a landscape, an animal, etc. there is nothing original about the concept of photographing that. People have been using cameras for over 100 years, so chances are the work is not that original as far as concept and lighting. That is why copyright on a photo only applies to the exact image and not to the technique to get that image. Even today when most images are manipulated in photoshop type editing programs, the techniques used in the program to manipulate the images are not original.

If you look at modern art, almost everything out there is inspired by others. There is very little originality today as far as genre or technique. But original artworks are original.

Seedyphotos.com for example has images that I see as original. But is it original in the history of photography, I would not know.