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Submitted on
September 5, 2012


1 (who?)
Anyone who knows any serious artist, or even a talented non-serious artist, knows the general stance on tracing stuff that isn't yours: Don't do it.

But why? WHY IS TRACING SO WRONG? Why is drawing Totoro from memory infinitely better than eyeballing work someone else has done? The argument seems to be that people learning how to draw should be allowed to trace or otherwise copy someone else's work by eyeballing it. But if you don't encourage originality, you get people who never STOP copying other people's work. You get fantastic artists who ONLY DRAW what they can look at directly. You learn amazing technical skills from looking at something and copying it, but you don't put any life into your art. You kill your creativity and your talent.

To be fair, everything drawn is referenced from something. But there is a difference between going to Getty images to see how the form of a foot is created so you can draw it accurately, and copying the entire drawing, including the foot.

I am against tracing mainly for that reason. The argument that people trace/heavily reference in order to learn how to draw is bullshit. It's a crutch. If you want to encourage someone to learn how to draw, hand them a drawing pad and a pencil and take them to the zoo. I guarantee any drawing from life will be 3,000x more interesting that something copied from a photograph, even if the technical skill is less. Drawing in the moment, achieving motion and weight in your art, is a much more admirable endeavour that Getting It Perfect. Getting soul and feeling into your work is a much higher accomplishment than reproducing a photo you took yesterday.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you're tracing/drawing someone else's work, you can blame your errors on the original drawing. But how do you learn, then? As I'm drawing something original, I'm constantly thinking to myself, "How can I improve this? Why does this look wrong to me? Holy crap! That looks amazing! I'll have to remember how I did that! Aw, I have to erase this part, it just doesn't look proper." etc. You aren't ever going to accomplish that if you aren't drawing something original.

So, there's that.

The other thing is.

You're TAKING someone else's ART and CLAIMING IT AS YOUR OWN.

How messed up in the head do you have to be to actually believe that that's okay!? How did you never learn that stealing is wrong?

And I don't give a shit if you """"""""CREDIT""""""""". Unless the original owner has given you permission, it's immoral. And not only is it immoral, it's fucking illegal, you morons.

For our next exhibit, let's take a look at International Copyright Law. The United States and maaaany other countries throughout the world (hint: You can't get around this by claiming you don't live in one of them. Chances are you do) are members of the Berne Convention, which set up the laws and punishments for breaking the laws of copyright.

Article 2 of the Berne Convention defines the works that are covered by it:

"The expression "literary and artistic works" shall include every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression, such as books, pamphlets and other writings; lectures, addresses, sermons and other works of the same nature; dramatic or dramatico-musical works; choreographic works and entertainments in dumb show; musical compositions with or without words; cinematographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to cinematography; works of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving and lithography; photographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to photography; works of applied art; illustrations, maps, plans, sketches and three-dimensional works relative to geography, topography, architecture or science."

Essentially, everything you can do or think of to do.

Article 9 states that:

"Authors of literary and artistic works protected by this Convention shall have the exclusive right of authorizing the reproduction of these works, in any manner or form."

IE: You can't trace something and credit the author. You have to get their permission to copy their work.

Now for the bad news.

Your fan art and mine is borderline infringing on copyrights. I say 'borderline' because of the fact that there is some wiggle-room for fair use and parody, so long as you aren't taking an exact reproduction of something and pasting it onto something else and calling it art. (For case law on that, please see Jeff Koons.) However, we are reproducing intellectual property in ways that hedge on illegality, and for that, we are at the mercy of the companies whose work we emulate.

The GOOD news is that destroying a fandom is one of the worst things a company can possibly do, and so this borderline infringement is generally overlooked in favor of fans that continue to pay money toward a copyright, but don't make money off of it themselves. Essentially, banning fanart and fanfiction would be such PR suicide that it would completely kill the interest in any particular franchise... Which is why Disney's lawyers aren't suing everyone who draws Lion King fanart. Because fandom promotes interest in a product, some companies like Blizzard and South Park Studios actively encourage fanworks.

If you want an example of how rabid copyright holders have destroyed their own franchise, please take a look at the Pern series by Anne McCaffery, who did not allow art of her characters, roleplaying games related to Pern, or fanfiction until she finally relented and relaxed her rules in 2004. Her son actively tried to claim that all dragons were a trademark of the Pern series, and many fans were sued for the devotion and love of the stories. People lost their life savings over books about dragons. While that was fully within McCaffery's rights to do so, the fandom suffered until she realized she was shooting herself in the foot.

But this is where copyright law gets more complicated. Let's say you find an original fanart drawing of Toothless from How to Train your Dragon. You like it, so you trace it.

Did you know that even though the original work is derivative of a copyright, the new work is also copyrighted? If you trace someone's work, you are infringing, and if they choose to tell you to take it down, you cannot use the argument that it is already derivative, so it's your right to keep it up. They can take you to court over it. And while that would not be wise, as they couldn't collect any monetary damages from you, you would be out hundreds of dollars in court costs and legal fees, because the court would rule against you.

So don't do it. It's illegal.

(References: Berne Convention, revised text:…
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sphinx-face Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Also I realize you're talking about the dipshits who reference or trace actual work and claim it as their own. Which I know you've experienced first hand with those pony things... Those people are just stupid and would never take the time to read journals like this or even stop. They could get their dA account shut down but just make a new one and keep doing the same thing..
sphinx-face Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Tracing is a starting tool, not an advanced tool. Some people just don't get past the beginner stages, either by choice or the fact that they don't draw enough or try to learn different techniques. Mastering the ability to copy is a skill that actually takes time to do well, starting from scratch on a new way to do art can feel clumsy and daunting so it tends to ward people off. There is no 'real' or 'correct' way to do art, but I agree that sometimes talented people seem to back them selves into corners, or untalented people flood us with terrible artwork that really has no value to anyone except the artist...
ChaosKirin Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
I think my biggest hangup is that people trace (Say, lion king bases) off screencaps and then post them as legitimate art. That's not okay. Tracing and keeping the stuff off the internet is one thing, but you're exactly right. Marketing it as art is lame.
sphinx-face Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think I read how someone else said they didn't know it was wrong when they were 12... I think 1/2 of those people are just young and naive, and I think I've seen accounts like that that eventually become abandoned..
ChaosKirin Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
A lot of them are young, like 12-15, but there are also quite a few in their 20s (at least according to the age they post on their homepage.) One of the real problems is when people leap to their defense and start abusing the report feature. XD

I don't think dA does much about them, but I've taken to just reporting them and not saying anything. Maybe if I report enough, they'll decide to start taking action.
sphinx-face Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
My friend has a problem reporting things that go against the adult theme rules on dA, like a picture titled "masturbation" and the picture is clearly masturbation, but they don't remove the picture... :/
ChaosKirin Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Yeah, I see that a lot, too. I mean, on some level, it's hard to keep up on a site with thousands of users. The answer would be to hire volunteer staff, idk.
Paragons-Saga Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Even when I was a kid, I had moral issues with tracing. I felt like tracing a thing meant that I wasn't actually drawing something and it took no effort or skill to do. I, too, was taught methods of copying, particularly to take an image and make it bigger. I made poster-sized reproductions of some of my favorite Metroid art. It was fun to do at the time, and I did learn from the experience, but if I was ever asked, I always said it was copied. I never scanned them and shared them online. I kept them for my own personal enjoyment.

Through much of high school, I did a lot of heavy referencing/eyeballing from comics/manga that I owned. I didn't copy the characters (or largely their clothing unless I was particularly uninspired), but rather took the forms and transformed them into my own. Hitoshi Okuda had a particular style that I liked and I wanted to emulate in general at the time. I still did other works entirely on my own, but if I couldn't figure out a pose I wanted on my own, I would sift through my comics and look for one that worked. Once I was out of high school, I used that method less and less and did things more and more without reference. My drawing style went through a number of changes while I figured it all out.

While I'm not particularly proud of my early methods when I started to draw people, I couldn't say that I would be where I am at now without the practice. Copying things helped me to realize things that I hadn't noticed by just looking at something. By now, I don't know if I could just eyeball a thing the way I used to. I'd get bored of looking back and forth trying to go line by line when I can just get the idea of the pose or clothing at a glance and draw my own thing like I would if I were doing a commission.

And despite my past experience having been sort of a perpetrator of what you're talking about, I do largely agree with you. Because not everyone is like me and uses it as a step towards originality and getting better. There is a bit of a problem if you're wanting to draw people rather than animals with your suggestion: random strangers might get pissy or think you're a creeper if you sit in the park or wherever and copy them. Fortunately animals at the zoo don't get pissy. :D
stalit Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2012
I heavily reference photos and even trace parts of my own pictures at times. I've never really liked having to rely on a decent photo for my works, also makes me feel far less skilled. On my website I state that if you send me a photo that you're giving me permission to heavily reference it. Even here on dA when stock rules are stated I'll usually ask if I draw the animal in the photo. I feel a little more safe I guess, knowing that they're given the okay.
But that is a different playing field. ^_^;;

Of course, I don't reference someone else's actual paintings/work.
I remember having to do that in high-school, pretty much just ripped off the artist's work, I got down-graded by putting my own twist on it once. >_> I did learn some amazing techniques, but I really couldn't call any of my work 'my own'. Got to the point where it was rather depressing and quit the class. So I don't really understand how someone can feel 'accomplished' by tracing. Though, I do remember a time when I did and that was before I learnt tracing/copying was theft (I think I was about 12 before I learnt this). Perhaps it's just a case of people not knowing(always got to remember the young'ns being oblivious) or even just not caring?
Just look at dA, a place that prides itself on art but also shits all over it. It's very rarely that anything is done to prevent these kinds of thing. No Punishment = No Fear = No Solution. I think the only time I've seen re-posts and traces etc taken down was from members pretty much (for lack of a better word) pestering the person until they remove it.
ChaosKirin Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
I think what bothers me about photo tracing is one person in particular, who takes copyrighted pictures of stars, book covers, promotional images, etc, and just redraws them. There is no difference between the original and his. It could be a photocopy.

And yeah, wow, he has amazing mimicry skills, but there is not one original thing in his gallery. They're all direct copies. It's sad, because he has skill.

And you know you're much more than that. Your artwork is amazing and original. You have a unique, recognizable style, which is important.

Yeah, I remember having to draw stuff line for line in high school. I can't believe art teachers encourage that.

And it might be a case of people not knowing, but when you're told over and over by people that tracing is stealing, and you insist that you have the RIGHT to trace (in this case, I'm talking about stills from the movie Lion King, which are traced and posted as 'bases'), then you have a problem. Unfortunately, dA doesn't take down traces, so there's no consequences.

Unfortunately, I think that's going to bite dA in the ass one day. Something's going to come out, some kidlet is going to trace it, and the copyright holder is going to be a rabid dick about it and sue the site. YAY SLIPPERY SLOPE ARGUMENT. XD
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