Friday, August 23, 2002

A number of original photographs on which Bioware's artists have based their portraits are crawling out of the woodwork over at Neverwinter Vault.

There's quite a furore among commenters about this. I said in my original tutorial that using photos as reference, and tracing over them to get the basic structure, was a standard fantasy art technique. My first fantasy art hero, Boris Vallejo, says as much of his 'fantasy-realist' paintings, in his book on his methods. Even so, he does so in a defensive tone - combating the unspoken suggestion that tracing, or painting over, means you 'can't draw'. People have used the phrase 'rip-off' of Bioware's beautifully rendered and detailed images, where the structure has come from another artwork.

I'm amazed at the can of worms this has opened up. As I have discussed in an earlier post or two, the subject of IP (Intellectual Property), including copyright on digital photographs which are so easily downloadable from the internet, is something of a hot potato these days. The law is very tight on it, arguably too tight; and if one or two of Bioware's artists have used the photos without gaining permission, they may well face lawsuits. The source images are by professional photographers, of famous actresses, and they have become part of a product which earns the company money. (I'm really surprised they didn't take their own photos, as Vallejo does.) They would seem to be eminently suable - and a legal battle may have to be fought to decide whether the paintover counts as an original work, or 'fair use' of some sort.

I'm relying on not pissing anyone off, being too skint to be worth suing, and not making any money from my artwork to protect me from litigious wrath. It's not even my profession, so I can't be seen as earning notoriety to fuel my other paid work. I'm a teacher, not even an art teacher. (Except to the extent of the tutorials you can find on other pages in this site.)

I'd guess that Bioware's legal boys have checked this situation out, and that comes from the assumption that the artist was open about his or her methods, and the use of source material to produce the portraits. When talking to PC Zone about the possibility of having my work on their coverdisks, the use of source issue came up quickly. They're only including my originals and copyright-free paintovers. Better to be safe than sorry; the magazine is being sold.

But what if the artist didn't know the law, and/or didn't tell anyone about his/her methods? (I was quite ignorant of the tightness of the copyright laws when I started doing my paintovers.) It'd be terrible to see this issue blow up in the company's face. I wonder whether there might be a knock-on effect to other companies too?

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