Owning Your Work

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I recently visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri where they have lager than life shuttlecocks on their front lawn. As I roamed the finely manicured lawns I witnessed several people taking photographs of the shuttlecocks. Seeing this got me thinking. When you photograph someone else’s artwork, do you own that photograph?

For the most part in these situations, people are just capturing memories and aren’t using the photographs for capital, social, or political gain and most artists don’t mind having their art photographed in this way. However, if a photographer is shooting the photo for professional photo shoot, having another person’s artwork anywhere in the photograph without having obtained permission first could create a major problem.

In a recent phone interview, Graphic Designer Linh Trieu shared her thoughts, “I’ve found my photographs and artwork on other websites before promoting events that I had no idea about and it’s very frustrating. I put a lot of hard work into that and they think they’re going to get it for free? Yeah, right.”

Artwork itself can be a wide variety of things ranging from paintings or sculptures and craft items, to architectural works, jewelry, clothing, toys or other artistic works.

Copyright and intellectual property laws are very tricky issues and ones that many people tend to ignore when it comes to photography. Only the artist/owner of a copyright is legally allowed to reproduce the copyrighted work. Taking a photograph of a copyrighted work amounts to reproducing that work. Legally, before you take a photograph of any work of art you need written permission from the artist or copyright owner. Photographers charged with copyright infringement may have to pay damages or legal costs to the artist or copyright owner.

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