I was alarmed to read this post at Neverwinter Vault about copyright issues in the use of 'found images' for NWN portraits. It seems a site has been brought down by a complaint from an artist whose work had been converted into a portrait for the game.
Where does my own work fall? I'm not taking other artists' work wholesale and converting it to NWN format, and I've gone to the lengths of creating a tutorial to make it absolutely explicit what work I do with a portrait, and what is in the original. I link to the original and the site too.
I don't think this constitutes theft of intellectual property. Of course, or I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't dream of taking, say, a Vallejo portrait and painting over that for use in NWN. (In part because I wouldn't need to, but mostly 'cos I don't think he'd like it.)
However, if an artist or subject complained and asked me to remove a portrait, I guess I'd sigh, and remove it. I'd hope, though, that the credit, the little bit of traffic I might send to their site, the amount I alter the image and the fact that it's just a hobby and not-for-profit, would be enough not to offend anyone.
The definition of Intellectual Property, the protection of it and the uses to which it may be legitimately put by others is an increasingly complex issue. It seems the law errs on the side of being too heavy-handed at the moment, and relies on people's judgment when not to exercise it. It's interesting, too, that parody is protected but other use or alteration is not. (My portraits, I suppose, would not count as parody, but rather the latter.)
What metaphor are we to use? Theft? Paintings or pictures of architecture? Internet = public domain? Academic citation? Parody? Warhol's soup cans? Dada? Sampling in music? Clay? Collage? Redistribution? Fraud by impersonation?
Each casts a different light on the process, and is dependent on the amount of alteration, if any, made to the image or text; and who is claiming authorship of the 'new' text, or what part of it.
My angle on the work I do with paintovers is that it's a bit like clay (I use the original portrait as material to work a new model with), partly paintings of architecture (It's an image of someone else's work, but they're often not contactable, and the final image incorporates other elements), partly citation (I don't claim that the work is entirely mine and I cite my sources).
I'm riding on this theory at the moment: As long as there's no problem, there's no problem. :)