Debate | Should Visitors be Allowed to Photograph Artwork in Galleries, Museums and Art Shows?

I received the following email from a reader, and artist and studio owner:

Hi Jason,

Love your Red dot blog!

Here’s a topic that I would love to see addressed:

Ours seems to be the age of phone cameras, selfies, and instant gratification, and I wondered how artists/exhibitors/galleries should handle this. We have a studio/gallery that has some public hours. We do have a sign posted that photographs of the art are not allowed because of copyright issues. Yet I am often confronted with visitors sneaking photos of everything they like, or just expecting that they can, and feeling indignant when they can’t. Also students come in working on projects, needing the photo of the art for their essay. Just this afternoon I allowed a high schooler to take photos of two of my entertainment scenes related to his jazz playing…but then I was left wondering just what his project was, and if my art is just going to be part of some visual mash-up.

I am happy to email medium files of art to interested collectors, but that is a time-consuming follow-up process. And many visitors just want it now, at their own convenience, and don’t even want the formality of giving an email address to get an image.

I also notice that in public spaces such as libraries, museums, people expect to snap away. What if you are a contemporary artist in a museum show – do you have to resign yourself to allowing everyone take high resolution photos of your art? They don’t have enough staff to police anyway in most smaller museums.

How does Xanadu handle this? Other exhibitors in arts festivals etc?

I’m in a quandary because photos from receptions, with people with the art, do seem to be helpful for publicity, but then where do you draw the line? Hard to say you can photograph the people, but not the art straight on. How do we balance access, the public’s enthusiasm and involvement with protecting our art from being used without recompense?

Love to hear your and Barney’s thoughts,

Karen

 

My response

Thank you for the email Karen. I’ve taken the approach that people in my gallery taking photos are helping me market the gallery, primarily to themselves, but sometimes to others through social media. I don’t really see this as a copyright issue. Even though smartphone cameras are hi-res, the likelihood that someone is going to get an image that would be high enough quality for reproductions without using a tripod and professional lighting is pretty low. It’s also likely that only a very, very small percentage of people visiting your gallery would even have the desire to violate your copyright. So what you are doing by having a strict no photography policy is irritating the vast majority of visitors to your gallery in order to protect yourself from a very small risk. Though only you can make the calculation, I’ve decided it’s just not worth the cost in terms of policing a policy like this, especially when you will end up being one of only a very small number of venues to do so.

We try to use photography in the gallery as a sales opportunity. When someone starts taking photos or asks if they can, we are very accommodating, even encouraging. We also offer to email them a photo of the piece they are interested in, letting them know that the email will include the size, price and artist name.

I would encourage you to rethink the policy and turn it from a negative into a positive.

Let me know if there is some other consideration that I’m not seeing.

 

What Do You Think?

So what do you think – should people be allowed to take photos of art in galleries or other venues? Have you ever had an image misappropriated by a viewer? How do you handle this issue when showing your work?

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54 Comments

  1. As an art fair I was in was wrapping up, a girl took a photo of my greeting cards, bragging that she was a card artist. Well..I was upset. However, my work is copyrighted, so watch out. So much of my art is overseas unauthorized thanks to FASO and Fine Art America, add to that Etsy shop copycats…it goes on and on. If people had real compassion they would never quibble over price, realizing most of our gain is lost to theft.

    1. As an artist, I am looking at artwork all the time. Sometimes I do take photographs, sometimes I will print
      off the internet. It is all part of my study of technique, colors, composition etc., etc.
      To actually copy artwork for resale is not something I am interested in what so ever. After all, I am developing my own unique style. I am not interested in duplicating another artist for resale.
      Photography is something I love to do and love to practice. I do know, to get a quality photograph that could be used for resale it has to be taken in a professional environment with flash, lighting, strobes
      and reflectors. Helena you said you get a lot of your artwork stolen I did a search and could not find it
      under your name. Do you sell under another name? I would not worry so much on this issue!

    2. As a sculptor, I don’t worry. If they want to copy, I think “Good luck with that” and when they realize the time, tools and material costs involved….. If someone does take a photo I ask them to please add Anne Alexander Sculptor to the post for some free advertising.

  2. As a photographic artist the most difficult thing for me has been embracing this issue. In the past I have gone so far as putting my hand in front of someone’s camera. I had “no photography” signs all over the place. After several years of struggling with it I now embrace it. No one will ever be able to use their photo for nefarious purposes. As a result I have tens of thousands of my images floating around all over the world. Free advertising. I also pitch sales, pose next to the image they’re photographing, and frequently take one of them standing next to the piece they like so they can see themselves with it when they find a place for it in their home. It builds a bridge rather than leaving a bad taste in a potential buyer’s mouth. I’ve turned this negative into a productive positive.

    1. Dan, wonderful idea turning a negative into a positive. Who has the nerve to say no when you offer to take of picture of them with something they like?

      I make baskets out of recycled paper. I’ve done two nationally recognized outdoor art festivals where I was an “emerging artist.” Several visitors to my tent asked permission to take a photo (my work is easy enough to copy), while a few just snap away. Next time this happens, I’ll ask if they’d like a photo of them in my tent with the piece they love.

      That is, next time I do a show. I can’t afford the entry fees and would have barely covered my expenses if I had to pay for that spot.

    2. Isn’t it only free advertising if they use your name? That’s the problem. I use my oil portraits as a profile pic on Twitter. One was a woman from India, but some jerk took it and made it into an anti sharia law meme. When I asked him to remove it, that it was my oil painting, he just blocked me.

      On the other hand, I’ve been in some galleries that allowed me to snap a pic. Major museums usually allow it without a flash. But I’m torn because, like you, I’d like to study the colors, the technique, etc., but not to copy. Sadly, not everyone is that scrupulous.

  3. I let them take photographs. The positives outweigh the negatives. If you are a 3D artist someone might want to copy the design, however the artist should have a website and the images will be on it anyhow. For my fine art photography it is pretty unlikely the will get a quality enough image for print reproduction.

  4. A few years back, I lived in California. The state had an active Artist’s Equity organization that would legally oversee such issues when they came up.
    When I lived in Arizona I had someone use an image they took of my artwork for some of their advertising. Pursuing rules about such things, in that case, turned out to be very difficult.
    Probably, one can hope that posting signs about photographing artworks will be adequate. It can be a problem.

  5. I once had a visitor during Open Studios ask if a piece could be photographed, and declined permission. Later, when a friend was visiting my studio, he asked to photograph a series of pieces so he could consult with his wife over whether to buy them; I let him take the photos, and they bought the series.

    In light of this, I’m thinking now that if someone wanted to photograph my work with their phone, I’d ask them to give me their contact information. That would help separate the wheat from the chaff, I suspect — those who wanted to consult with a household member, for example, about whether to buy a piece, vs. someone who wanted to rip me off. Is this a reasonable assumption?

  6. Thanks Jason to your thoughtful reply. I have never understood what artists are so afraid of. I have known hundreds of artists in all kinds of art socieities, and I have yet to hear about one of them having a problem with their work being pirated. Of course it can happen, and has. But, you are correct that we all have to take a look at the risk/benefit calculations. I agree that the benefits far, far outweigh the risks.

  7. We should all be so lucky to have somebody in the world today who would want to violate our copyrights in order to commit fraud and make money off our art.

    It’s so easy to sniff these people out. Reverse image search services like Tineye do a great job. Any legit site hosting fraudulent reproductions, once notified, will quickly take those images and accounts down.

    I’m also a recording artist. I know many musicians who have a similar concern about sampling. Nothing would please me more than to discover that some wealthy rapper I’ve never heard of, who has millions of followers on Spotify, used part of my music without permission – even by accident. That’s like winning the lottery.

    1. Not so easy to confront when my friend’s distinctive work was on a T-shirt from China without attribution!
      Another friend was pirated by a major card company.
      But alas, the only real safe position is to not show your work.
      Do what you can and try not to stress.

    2. Responding to Mark Rushton and his copyright analysis:

      If you want to enforce your copyrights, they must be “timely” registered with the US Copyright Office, as either BEFORE the infringement commences OR registration within three calendar months of FIRST-publication. Without a timely registration on-file, you’re only eligible to pursue actual damages (actual losses and disgorgement of profits, if any!). With a timely registered copyright, you’re eligible for statutory damages from $750 to $30,000, and up to $150,00 if the infringement was willful (at the court’s discretion, you’re also eligible to recoup your attorney fees and legal cost from the infringer).

      Without a timely registered copyright, your attorney fees will likely out-strip any money damages you receive from the infringer.

      Tineye only works for infringements that are posted on-line.

  8. I do ceramics, and a couple of years ago, I had a visitor to my studio during an annual arts tour who asked a lot of questions about my process. As part of the tour is supposed to be educational, I answered her questions, although I began to be bothered by the level of engagement. Later I caught her surreptitiously taking photos of some of my work with her phone. Another artist who was sharing my studio determined that the visitor was actually a potter. Because of that experience, I am very careful about what I share. My work is well known regionally, and while someone deriving inspiration from it on the other side of the country would not bother me, someone in my own territory definitely does.

    1. This brings up what I see as also an equally big problem for artists: the photographing of a work of art for future enjoyment with no compensation to the artist. It takes time and money to create works of art. If someone is appreciating a photo they took of an artist’s artwork with no monetary compensation to the artist, they are consuming not only the work of art, but the artist’s time and money spent making it, for free. A person wouldn’t expect to eat at a restaurant and pay only with appreciation. If someone has created something that moves a viewer to take a picture for future enjoyment, I feel the piece should either be purchased or the viewing experience committed to a lovely memory – not taken away on an iPhone for free.

      1. Hi Lisa, while I get how you might get frustrated from not being paid for every “use” of your art, I have a different opinion in this case. Someone who is taking a photo of my painting is not going to hang that painting on his wall, will not have the actual piece. Having a memory of it on their phone, be able to share something interesting with friends – I feel it contributes to my PR, not takes away anything from me. What I would be selling is a specific product and any derivative of it is advertisement not copyright infringement. I am not selling screen savers, so if someone wants to turn a picture of my stuff into one, they have my blessing. As long as they remember my artist name).

      2. I think the age of internet has convinced many people that everything should be free for the taking. If you create decent art, people will be encouraged to try and replicate it. It is, after all, a sincere form of flattery, but,of course, it doesn’t put bread on your table.

  9. The general prohibition of photographs comes from the film era of not wanting flash photography exposing masterworks to the added light. Given digital imagery in low light today, this is a thing of the past and several museums are adjusting their rules, however many still have limits. I have seen museums where smartphones are allowed, but not DSLRs as one example. To be clear here, I have a smartphone that will allow me to take stunningly good photographs, though as Jason notes, why would I do so as an effort to infringe a copyright? And in the case of the Old Masters, who exactly owns that copyright?

    Personally, I hope my own art is photographed at every venue where it is on display and shared broadly. To me, it is a compliment that anyone would feel compelled to do so and again, as noted by Jason expands my potential for reaching new collectors.

    My .02

  10. It’s entirely possible that they’re photographing something they would like to buy, and need more opinions from friends before they decide. That photo may just sell your work. The young essay writer only needs to be sure credit is given to the creator of the photographed work. If he is taking a class in journalism, he probably already knows that, but if not, needs to learn it.

    1. When I get students looking for material to write about for class projects I talk to them about doing the due diligence of not just taking a photo of the work but finding out about who the artist is. It is my life work after all.

  11. Yes, they could use the photo of your artwork for advertising their product, or paint a copy of it to sell, or have prints made and sell them, or print them on mugs, or many other purposes that would technically be illegal because they are your copyrighted creations. But so what? Why let their dishonesty take over your life?

    Pursuing a copyright claim takes a huge amount of your time and money. Unless you are a VERY well-known artist selling your work for tens of thousands of dollars, you would likely lose more than you win – IF you win.

    I agree with those who suggest using this as an opportunity to engage in conversation with the photographer in a positive way if possible – and don’t fret about the rest. Just let it go. Use your time to create more wonderful art rather than obsessing about someone stealing your ideas.

  12. This problem is especially risky for photographers like myself. I can tell you, after four years of exhibiting in both small and large museums, we policed the taking of photographs as much as possible. The public needs to understand. We are the ones who suffer the consequences when the photograph is copied and then used illegally in violation of the copyright. Therefore, it falls to us to provide some education regarding copyright to members of the public who are rude and inconsiderate. Heck the Metropolitan in New York posts guards on either side of some famous works.

    I had signs posted at all my exhibits – big signs – at the entrances that photography was not allowed. Staff was then educated and began helping to patrol. Yes, a dedicated thief can probably get away with it anyway, but one has to do what one can do.


    Ann McMahon
    http://www.AnnMcMahon.com

  13. At a show where I exhibit all summer, there was a man taking pics because he fancied himself an artist and wanted to “copy” the paintings he liked! He was very upfront about it and didn’t see anything wrong with that. I frankly was stunned into silence and have thought since about how I should have handled it (besides a wide-eyed stare). Part of me thinks that the very fact he was doing this means he is probably not a very good and certainly not a professional artist, but should I have said something? I have no idea if he intended to try to sell his art or if he was doing it for his own enjoyment. Classical training involves copying old masters, so is this in the same vein?

  14. My issue with someone photographing my art isn’t usually with the public, but with other artists. I’m a photographer. Painters seem to think they have the right to copy my photograph as a painting, which is clearly a violation of copyright. However, they will snap a photo of my displayed photograph, then claim they are painting from their own photograph! While that’s technically correct, it still violates copyright laws, I believe. In keeping with this, I tend to never use photographs of 3-D artwork displayed in public places, as, again, I am taking advantage of someone else’s artwork. Photographing another person’s artwork is just wrong, in my mind, whatever the reason.

  15. I’ve experienced many of these situations at art shows, including one woman announcing that she was going to take a picture so she could paint it herself because she didn’t want to spend the $. ( I told her she could see it on my website instead.)

    Most of the people ask if they can take a picture to show their spouse or to look at the photo at home to decide if it will go well in their living or dining room. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem when someone brings a high quality DSLR camera and carefully frames and focuses the painting as though they’re going for a high res version to make prints from. I stop that kind of behavior. I do not have no photography signs in my booth. These days most people are polite and ask.

    1. I so agree with the photo for the spouse, but otherwise, tact has died! I love the smartphone & I hate it as well! I have to monitor people daily in my gallery, despite the huge signs that say , “No Photos Please”, & half of them have pictures of my no photos signs in them. Artists work hard to create something that should not be stolen from them & posted on the internet.

  16. In response to Judy’s post, it is correct to copy an artist’s work if one signs it “After (original artist’s name) before their signature. This makes it plain that the work is a copy and gives credit to the original artist. I have seen a portrait in pastel signed in this manner at the St Louis Museum of Art. The original artist was a master, and the copying artist was also a master of a later era.

    1. I have to point out that this is true only if the original artwork is in public domain, or if the copying artist has specific permission from the original artist or his estate to use it. Then an artist may create a derivative work, and if she has artistic integrity she will credit her source as Angie mentions, for example “California Poppies and Oaks after Granville Redmond.” However, if the original art is still under copyright, no amount of credit to the original artist will give the copying artist the right to use it.

  17. This is a similar problem as discussed about watermarking photos of artwork being advertised online. It just isn’t possible to police all the various ways people have of accessing images.

    I’ve had several of my line-art drawings stolen outright from my websites – even with watermarks on them. One company is in Canada and is selling one of my most popular designs as theirs for embroidery machines. Another company in China is manufacturing ribbon with one of my designs printed on it. The positive thing that happened with that one is that someone who bought the ribbon found me and asked if that company had permission to use my design, that’s how I found out. I gave her permission to go ahead and make her product with the ribbon and asked that she help me out by giving me credit for the design, which she immediately did, providing advertising.

    And on it goes.

    Recently I gave permission to photograph an oil painting and the gentleman came back the next day and bought it. Then I took a photograph of him holding the painting.

    As an artist I don’t take photos of other’s art. If I really like a piece but cannot buy it I look for cards or prints, talk to the artist and get their card or website. I am surprised how few artists have email lists of their own; as it is a great way to capture visitors’ interest, and maybe get a sale later on.

    I appreciate this discussion as I will be showing paintings at a public venue this coming weekend.

  18. I’ve done shows for years and have a little knowledge of photography and the quality of images you can get from certain phones. You can also tell things about the person as they are looking at your art. I had a 20-something woman take her phone out, pointed it down at the piece (it was a bit lower on the wall so she had to point downwards) and I just let her take the photo. I knew she would never get something that could be turned into a rip-off image from the way she was shooting it. Then I walked up to her and asked her who she wanted to show that to. It was her husband, to tell him she really liked it.

    On the other hand if I saw someone really trying to steady themselves and square off carefully with my art, I’d wonder. I’d probably talk to them while they would rather be concentrating and find out what they’re all about and take it from there. I admit that sometimes I feel kind of violated, the way a few people walk up to my pieces and sling a phone at them…LOL. But at weekend boutiques and art shows I am also my own “gallery owner,” so I have to get that out of my head and work on turning it into a sale. I get a sale about 50% of the time.

    I suppose this describes my two conflicting feelings about people photographing my art. It never really resolves in my mind but I try to make it work.

    To my knowledge I have not seen my art copied on the internet except on two Chinese websites who ripped off about 3/4 of my images from Fine Art America. With the help of a legal service membership I actually got them to take everything down within about 8 days. That felt good!

    1. How did you find the Chinese websites who were copying your art? I have had my eyes opened about Fine Art America! I am generally not too fond of people taking photos of my paintings, but on the other hand, even I don’t take great photos of my paintings — so I don’t imagine anyone else will have such good photos that they could reproduce them.

  19. I understand what Karen is saying but I agree with Jason that most use it for a memory and helps promote the work. When I worked in graphic design I saw my work and others plagiarized, this really reflects badly on the one plagiarizing. It can be illegal and very costly if taken too far. Good bookkeeping of when the art is produced can help.

    I do take pictures in museums and some galleries as a reference. Either I like the piece and may consider buying it or admire the composition, use of color, brushwork…etc. I love being able to revisit, say a John Singer Sargent exhibition and marvel at again and again.

    Maybe making the public aware that the images are copyright and reproduction for money is prohibited without express consent of the artist could be a good start.

  20. You discussed this before. (I think?)

    People don’t want a lousy, low res photo of art…if they are in the market to buy art. They are not fungible.

    Let people shoot as they like, that is my view anyway.

    I talked with one artist. She never made a website. She was scared people would get photos of her sculpture. She thought a photo of her sculpture is the same thing as her sculpture. Crazy!

  21. As a sculptor, I do not have much of a problem with the general public using cameras. By the same token, shortly after installing a piece in an open air gallery in a town near me I found a professional photographer taking photos of work in the show. He was not with the exhibit and said he was working on a book. This sent up flags for me regarding attribution and presentation. I was not able to get his contact info but it was a moment that set me to thinking.
    Patty McPhee

  22. I think it is important to separate museums from places where art is for sale. I was inspired (to do my own work, not copy) by some works at a museum where photography was not allowed. I have looked for other sources of images and there are no books, calendars or postcards I can buy. I have bought a couple old catalogs from galleries, but they are mostly in black and white. I would love to be able to take a decent photo just to be able to study the work.

  23. When someone tries to take individual photos of my work I walk up to them and say “I’m sorry, it’s not ok to take photos of artwork in here (and point them to the signs) but if you’d like me to send you a copy of the painting you’re interested in, I’ll happily do so. My email list is over here … “.
    If they really want to take their own photo, I ask them to take it on an angle and explain that it’s because I’ve had artwork copied and it’s a bit of a pain to follow up on that sort of thing.

    However, I like the idea of offering to take their photo in front of the painting. That way I could ensure I took it on an angle and might even be able to have a small corner of the painting obscured. This could be accompanied by handing them my business card while being friendly AND encouraging them to post it on their social media accounts.

    Thanks for the blog post and everyone’s great comments.

  24. Years ago, while I was packing away my paintings after an “art fest” over the weekend, a man with a professional looking camera asked me if he could take photos of one of my paintings for an article he planned on writing for our local paper. Since he was also taking photos of other artists’ work, I agreed. I never saw an article or photos of my work published so I didn’t give it another thought.

    Several years later, as a middle school teacher, I took that same painting to school so I could hang it on my classroom wall. One of my students kept insisting that I had copied his father’s art work because they had the same painting on their living wall. I asked him to take a photo of it to prove it. Sure enough, it was my work. Finally I knew what had happened to the photos taken of my work.

    I wanted to sue this man, since I had proof he had made a copy of my work but I was threatened with dismissal if I sued. I could have won the case because I had painted my name on the side of one of the boats in the composition, but I needed the steady paycheck so I surrendered my right to sue.

    To this day, I refuse to sell that painting. I can’t bring myself to part with it. I’m still inserting little cues in my work to prove beyond the shadow of doubt it’s my work but I can’t seem to be OK with the theft and then the betrayal by the principal of a high profile private school in DC.

  25. As a professional photographer and an artist my job has entailed copying thousands of paintings and sculptures for reproduction purposes so I understand both the technical and legal requirements of doing so. However, when traveling, I don’t hesitate to photograph (with iPhone or DSLR when allowed) artworks that pique my interest due to their use of color, tonality, subject, technique etc. What do I do with these images? I file them in an ‘Art Ideas’ folder that I review from time to time and sometimes getting inspiration in the process. I see this as being no different from the old technique of doing ‘tears’ from a magazine for layout purposes, although I respect the difference that these artworks are on both copyrighted and on private property so approval should be granted. Some private galleries post very obvious ‘No Photography’ signage whilst most public galleries have an open and free policy. Frankly, I don’t see the problem with allowing people to photograph your artwork as I believe that less than 5% of those who do will actually remember your piece and do anything with the image. Most likely it will become one of the many millions of images lost forever on our iPhones, never to be seen again.

  26. I saw a statistic recently that most phone camera photos are rarely if ever looked at again. I’m not very worried about my images being ‘stolen’. I do like the idea of taking someone’s photo with a work they like, because you can control the photo. People taking fashion selfies, in galleries and museums where it’s allowed, standing in front of work like models, drive me crazy. Not to the side, but in front of the work. It’s a backdrop. Twice I’ve been at the Broad Museum in L.A. and have seen this happen in front of the same painting, artist Glenn Ligon’s neon “America”. Both times, other gallery-goers wrapped up in the serious nature of that work have become incensed and I thought there would be a confrontation. Some people are so clueless. I do wish there was a way to get this across to people. Not everything is there for their amusement.

  27. Another view: What about folks at seminars and PA events where they are up and down with their
    i Phones and Tablets with strong lights in your face when one is sitting next to them? The Pa
    event in Santa Fe was ruined for me with people sitting next to me taking images from the large audio visual units on the stage. There have to be some
    rules about this. With regard to photography at galleries and shows…I think this is rude and
    inconsiderate. What are these people using these photos for? I am of the older generation
    that never saw anyone with a camera at a show or museum. I am an oil painter for 30
    years with many shows under my brushes, and I would not hesitate to refuse a photo of
    my art, except for the case of approval of purchase by a mate etc.Crabely yours! Anne

  28. Mixed feelings on this. As a rule, I do not take photos of other artists’ work out of respect. If purchasing a work, which I did recently, I try to get a photo of the artist holding the painting and also one of me holding the painting. So far I have not minded if people take photos of my work. Sometimes I do my own version of a familiar painting (as in Van Gogh’s “Bedroom”) but it is a miniature study with my own name signed “after” original artist. I have been told that copyright is off when the artist has been deceased for more than 50 years, but it is never acceptable to sign that artist’s name to the work and to do so would be considered fraud.

  29. I agree with Jason. Although the photographs could be used to benefit the photographer, I often encouraged the future buyer to take pics of things they liked. My purpose in doing so was to allow them to take the image home to see if the piece or pieces of art fit the area in which they were thinking of, in both color and style. Generally, the piece would be sold, one way or the other, as it allowed for a second opinion.

  30. Most of these comments are like flailing in the wind. Nothing any of us say or do will stop the flood of phone cameras that take pictures of anybody anywhere doing anything at all. It’s the world of 2018.

    And let’s be honest here, how about artists who paint people they see without permission. Or take photographs of strangers and print them without getting a signed statement that it’s okay. Aren’t we “stealing” by using people as models without paying them a dime. Did anybody ever go back and give one of those people a commission when the painting or photo sells.

    As an artist I did have fun one day with a little “turn about’s fair play” when a young woman began to photograph me with her cell phone in a coffee shop. I picked up my sketch pad and openly began to sketch her. When she noticed she put the phone away and left the place. I did get a good sketch out of it.

    Let’s untwist our knickers on the photos in the galleries, folks. There are much more serious matters to think about.

  31. 1. Photo-taking in galleries & museums spoil the experience and atmosphere.
    2. Photos, regardless of camera quality never render the textural, tonal features I look for, especially when I’m trying to analyse techniques. Better to get permission to sketch and paint in the museum – a tradition to embrace.

  32. It’s like the Dutch boy sticking his finger in the Dike, you will never stop it and just cause bad feelings if you try. Right now this smart phone camera thing is a fad and it will soon pass. The truth is that the large majority of those images will get buried under thousands more and will eventually be deleted without another look. The best thing to do is turn it to your advantage: If you find a copy on the net being mass produced send them proof of copyright and an invoice. If you see the theft taking place be pleasant and get their contact details for your mailing list. Make the contact a pleasant and memorable occasion, because people will remember you as (nice or not) which will long outlast the image. Yes, I know it’s hard as an artist not to be upset or indignant, but practice makes perfect!

  33. I’ve had my art reproduced by Chinese businesses who had people make oil painting copies with slight changes and market them to big art expos in the US which I have seen first hand. Also tiles, clocks, etc. Another artist at an art fair copied an image, painting it on glass. When a friend took my art card to him with my image he said, yes, he had bought a card the year before and loved it and made a painting to sell. He was asked to leave the show.

    I certainly don’t have the resources to sue the Chinese and now I feel badly that the art fair artist was asked to leave, so now I have a different attitude. Any person can buy an art card or find my art on the internet so the images are easily acquired. So confronting people taking photographs is not effective and it turns people off, including nearby potential customers. Now I consider it a way that my art gets promoted and when I give someone my business card they often say, “Oh, yes! I’ve seen your work before.” So I consider it a benefit. I like the idea of taking a picture for and with them!

  34. I will never visit NY’s Museum of Contemporary Art until they limit the camera/iphone people. I had folks ask me to get out of the way so they could snap a pix. I told them to go buy a postcard or a book at the museum store. One guard told me someone had knocked over sculpture the week before composing their phone camera shot. Of course they broke the art. Grrr. Looking at original art should be with our brains and heart not an iphone!

  35. As so many have said, picture taking with smart phones is a thing now, and not likely to be stemmed, but that doesn’t mean we have to just sit there and watch if it looks like an especially suspect person. We can and should approach them and introduce ourselves, and see where that conversation goes. It’s always better when the person asks permission. Personally, I’d rather they took event shots or selfies or a shot with the artist, where the art is in the picture but not very usable for infringing purposes. When people take straight on shots of just the art, it doesn’t matter that it’s probably not a high quality image, it’ll be good enough for most if not all infringing uses, because thieves don’t care if their buyer gets a blurry reprint.

    I go to art walks a couple of times a month, almost always have my smart phone on me, and often get home having never taken it out. If I do take shots it’s usually event shots or group shots of people I know in the show. I had a solo show a couple yrs ago and a lady came in and very quickly took a phone shot of every piece and dashed off. I wonder, did she even “see” the art at all? Same goes for natural wonders, some people only see it thru the lens of their smart phone, and don’t fully experience being there.

  36. There is a fine line between P.R. and copyright infringement. Someone above mentioned the need to register a work before infringement (or within a three-month window after first publication) in order to collect damages, but visual art that either has not been reproduced, or has been reproduced in fewer than 200 signed and numbered copies, can be be enforced without such prior registration. (See the Visual Artists’ Rights Act.) Further, as a gallery owner you may not have the authority to grant permission for reproduction of the work, which may be what results when a photo is taken; if you do grant permission, you may well be considered to be an infringer yourself.

    What you (on behalf of the artist) want to do is to CONTROL the reproduction of the work. As a practical matter, this can be done by making sure publicity photos are partially obscured by people standing in front of them, or are protected with a watermark (which is why– with the artist’s permission– you want to supply any publicity photos rather than allowing people to take their own). This also helps to make certain that the artist gets CREDIT in any reproduction of the work (and that the work is not reproduced on, say, greeting cards or t-shirts without the artist’s name or authorization).

    Control and credit govern the compensation the artist receives for the work. You don’t want to mess that up. (Sale of a copyrighted work does not include the right to reproduce that work unless that right is granted in writing.) One of the things you can do, in gently warning that taking photos of a piece of visual art can be a copyright infringement, is to mention that violations of the artist’s copyright can carry criminal as well as civil penalties. Most people do not want to risk going to jail for taking a photo– especially if you can supply a watermarked (and therefore controllable) copy.

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