Knocking It Off and Selling It...Inspiration or Plagiarism?

From my Winter Collection 2008..

“One of the oldest sins in art is knocking off someone else’s creation and selling it"…
Take a leisurely stroll around this site sometime and you will see many instances of works supposedly inspired by, but instead are blatant copying of other members works, amounting to copyright infringement…
The risk involved to the person doing the copying, can involve anything from a complaint in the form of a DMCA notice to the site admin, to a Cease and Desist letter from an attorney or worse, an actual lawsuit…

“How do you determine the difference between inspiration and plagiarism? It’s easy, but don’t ask me to explain it. Just like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of Pornography, “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

“If, for example, a particular photographer/artist is known for portraying landscapes in certain unique ways that are readily identifiable with that artist, and you COPY one of these compositions or INCORPORATE it liberally and literally into your art, then you may be liable for copyright infringement.
This is assuming that you did not request permission from the artist in advance to use the imagery in question.
Using anyone’s compositions or images to make money for yourself without first asking their permission and agreeing in advance about how you intend to use them puts you significantly at risk for infringement

These days it’s easy to determine who has copied your work and how much of the original was used, by doing Google reverse images searches…
I can tell in an instant which of my works have been copied and by whom, whether they have used ten or ninety percent of the original painting…to learn your rights and the laws see the linked article below…




  • Tim Coleman
    Tim Coleman6 months ago

    How do you do a “Google reverse image search”?

  • There are several ways to do it…the link below is for the long way…there is a much quicker way, but I have the link on my desktop and I am on my IPad right now…there is also TinEye….
    Click here

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Matty B. Duran
    Matty B. Duran6 months ago

    This is good to know. I would hate to think that anyone would do this to my father, who is now deceased, and has left his work as his legacy. He cannot create any more paintings, this is it, so I would hate to think, hate to see this happen to his work. Also, I would hate it to happen to any other artist. As artists and writers why would we want to steal something that did not originate with our own creativity? As far as poets go, I know there are a lot of members who write better than me, but I admire their talents, but would never take their words, as the point of art is for it to be your own. I have to write the words, they have to come from me, I would never want to pass anyone’s work as my own. This is why I never write after reading other people’s work. I wouldn’t even subconsciously want to take what is theirs. Thank-you Janis.

  • You’re welcome Matty…thanks so much for the feedback…you must, when you have time do a few reverse image searches on his work, just to see if anyone is messing around with it…see the link in my comment above..

    – © Janis Zroback

  • flutterbyerose
    flutterbyerose6 months ago

    I don’t know how anyone could do a knock off on your work and expect to get away with it. Your painting style is completely original and if I saw something that looked just like yours…I’d challenge it because I’d know it was stolen!!

  • They have done it before and up to yesterday, I saw that they were still doing it…not very well done, but enough that I could see instantly that it was a copy…it’s sad when people cannot come up with their own ideas and need to copy others…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Jacki Stokes
    Jacki Stokes6 months ago

    Wow Janis, I never heard of a Google reverse image search – that’s so useful. Thank you for sharing that! I see that I have quite a lot of images that have ben pinned, before I changed my settings on RB to deter people from pinning. In all cases though, it gives the source it was pinned from, and credits me as the artist. I know you are against pinning, but what’s the harm as long as they are low res images and gives credit to the artist and source: isn’t it just free publicity? Or am I being incredibly stupid?

  • Jacki I am so much against pinning that I don’t know where to start…for one thing it does not drive traffic to your page, you get no more sales from your images being pinned than if you kept them in a box in your attic…at one time there were several hundreds of my works pinned illegally and how many visits did I get during the two years they were there? Four….meanwhile 84% of my visitors came from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn…
    Secondly the image is so large there that there is no impetus for the viewers to seek out the source, re pins often lose the link, and the image is not so small that it can’t be used for the small sized products sold on Zazzle, something that frequently occurs….
    I have seen where by the last repin, someone else was claiming ownership of a work that was not theirs..
    Thirdly the works are pinned not to help you but to help the pinner…I have read conversations by pinners discussing that they were going to decorate their homes with my cherry images by printing them off the site…the images are not so low res that they can’t get good prints from them…
    A cookbook author took one of my Still life paintings from Pinterest and used it to illustrate his cookbook..I am still waiting for compensation for that piece of infringement…the lord knows how many other infringements of that kind is going on…people think if it’s on Pinterest it’s free to use…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Susan Werby
    Susan Werby6 months ago

    Good information, Janis… I often see photographs that I swear I recognize as being from someone else…or at least the concept. I guess there are only so many things that can be created before some begin to look like others… Much like music…I hear songs and think they sound like another…only so many notes available, I suppose…
    But copying…no no no!!! Thanks again!

  • You’re very welcome Susan…of course it is quite possible to shoot the same scene and the end results look similar, but it is a little different with a painting…my works are inspired by what I see, but the actual composition of my landscapes are imaginary…it would be very difficult for someone else to say they imagined the same thing, and painted it in the exact same way…however some very foolhardy people do try it on and think they are getting away with it, not realizing that sooner or later nemesis will catch up with them..

    – © Janis Zroback

  • © CK Caldwell IPA
    © CK Caldwell IPA6 months ago

    Janis, the link to the article is great. The information there is clear and well expressed. However the article didn’t directly address the question of painters using photographs as “inspiration” and for me, that is a particularly troubling issue.

    Recently I saw an artist say, “I am often inspired by photographs and admit to attempting to recreate what I see in a different medium…..”

    Here is my response:

    Being “inspired” by a photograph means something like, “Wow, I really love that beach photograph. I think I’ll go to the beach and make some sketches.” That’s a great idea. That’s inspiration.

    Or maybe the artist just begins to think about how a beach looks and feels and then creates a painting totally from their own imagination. Again, the photograph inspired the artist to create their own original work.

    But using another medium to “recreate” a photograph is NOT ok. It isn’t an inspired anything. It’s not flattery, the photographer won’t be honored. It is an infringement and it’s illegal.

    As a photographer I am particularly sensitive about this subject.

    I would strongly advise all artists to take their own photographs and use their own work for inspiration.

    Otherwise you are just copying someone else’s work, someone else’s inspiration and patting yourself on the back.

    It’s just plain wrong.


    I’m happy to say that later conversations with the artist I mentioned reveal she has changed her viewpoint, learned about copyrights and no longer “recreates” anyone else’s photographs.

    She now uses her own photographs, her own sketches and her own imagination. Her art is uniquely her own.

    I wish all the “recreationists” everywhere would be inspired by her and make art that is uniquely their own!

  • Well said Carol…the second article on FB does in fact address that issue and I will link it here as well…I don’t think many people understand that this too is a form of copyright violation, and that they need permission to recreate a photograph..

    – © Janis Zroback

  • I have added it to the post… Here it is too

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Susan Werby
    Susan Werby6 months ago

    Thank you again, Janis, for clarifying the painting aspect… I agree that it is pure theft to look at yours and now repaint it as your own… And as C.K.Caldwell states, using someone’s photograph as an inspiration without written permission is also wrong… I have collaborated with other artists/photographers and have given or received written permission to do so…totally different story…

  • Yes that’s it…as much as infringement grows, so do the methods to discover it becoming more sophisticated…artists are also becoming more proactive in retaining their own attorneys and invoicing the infringers as well as launching lawsuits where necessary…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Jacki Stokes
    Jacki Stokes6 months ago

    Thanks for that Janis – that has clarified the pinning situation for me. Just one last thing I don’t understand: if you ask RB to put a watermark stating your name across your images, and then they are pinned, surely the watermark will always stay there? I look forward to you enlightening me as usual! :-))))

  • No the Gifs don’t get pinned, just the Pngs or Jpgs…works are pinned from the RB Found images, from the forums etc…they are also pinned from Bing, Google and Yahoo, and many times the links go back to the secondary link instead of the main one…if someone put one of your images on their blog, and subsequently the work is pinned it will link back to the blog…it’s why I send takedowns to blogs as well as Pinterest…which reminds me I need to check Pinterest, I have not gone there in recent weeks….the worst part of pinning is that in the Pinterest terms of service they lay claim to every pinned work and keep them on their servers indefinitely…..they have not yet clearly stated how they are going to monetize the site! and until they do I don’t want my works subject to being sold by people who don’t own them..

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Oh by the way,,,Pinterest strips all the data from each image that is pinned…the data that shows who owns the work is no longer there…watermarks disappear…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • © Bob Hall
    © Bob Hall6 months ago

    Good word Janis!!!

  • You’re very welcome Bob…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Jacki Stokes
    Jacki Stokes6 months ago

    Eeeeugh Janis, that’s dreadful. I didn’t think it was that easy to strip out the watermark!! It’s a minefield out there isn’t it? Thanks for a very informative article.

  • You’re very welcome Jacki…thanks so much for the feedback

    – © Janis Zroback