The Danger of Using Stock in Art - Atlanta Digital Artist

June 03, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Being in a digital age, many artists have turned from using a paint brush or simply taking a photo to using Photoshop or other art software and using digital brushes or combining photos to create art. Artists like myself are photo manipulators. If you are one, you know what I'm talking about.  If you're an art collector, you might be new to the concept.

I combine several images with various layers in Photoshop to create art that ranges from simple to complex (my largest piece used 85 different layers!).  Most of the time I don't have a photograph that I can use to complete my vision and my drawing skills aren't the best, so I turn to stock and other resources to create my work. 

But there are some dangers in using stock, and that's what I'm here to talk about today. 


1. Using Google to Find Stock

If you're new to this kind of art creation, you might be tempted to just grab an image from a Google image search (or other search engine). DO NOT DO THIS!  Most of the images you find will be copyrighted and using them will be a violation of the original artist's rights.


2. Using DeviantArt or other art sharing websites (Flickr, 500px, etc). 

This also goes for finding pieces on DeviantArt or other art websites. Most of the work in places like these will retain their  copyrights unless the artist specifically says otherwise. Better safe than sorry.  Don't use something if you aren't sure if you have rights to it. 


3. Safe Stock Websites 

There are a number of safe website to use and some that are sketchy.  Websites like Pixabay are usually CC0 - which means you can use the stock there for anything.  Also note that if you decide to share your stock there for others to use, if you change your mind and delete your account, the stock will probably stay with Pixabay (etc) because once you open your stock for use, whoever downloads it will probably not go back to check if the stock is still open for use - but here's where the danger lies:


4. Unsplash and other sharing sites danger

I found out the hard way that some websites do take down stock images. I was creating a new book cover and used a piece of stock I had saved from a while ago.  It was perfect!  I store my stock by subject and then source so that I can go back to the website where I've added the stock as a favorite.  Many places I share my work (like DeviantArt) ask for the stock use to be linked back. This particular piece of art was no longer on Unsplash.  I couldn't find it anywhere on the internet from the original artist, though many websites were still using the stock on their websites. Because I could not verify that the stock was still CC0 and free to use for commercial use, I had to find another piece of stock to use.  I hated having to find a new piece of stock, but my limited resources (i.e. company financial reserves), I used what I could. I won't be using Unsplash in my work again. This was the resulting piece (temporary title/author for display):




5. Paid stock sites (Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, etc.)

These are where I would actually go for a commercial commissioned piece. You buy the stock from Shutterstock (etc.), but you have to pay a license fee to use it for your intended purposes.  Some artists on DeviantArt also have a policy for being paid for their stock for commercial work, but allow it to be free for personal art creation.  It is important to make sure you have the proper rights for the image you are using. Otherwise, you could face litigation from the artist.  Stealing is never ok!                                                            


6. Copying other artists

I've had this happen to me. I post a piece of art listing the stock I used and another artist collects the images and then recreates the piece I made and shares it as their own.  This is not ok. You can be inspired by other artists, but copying their work is basically stealing their vision as an artist. It cheapens your work and makes you look like a fraud. By all means, use someone's work as inspiration or use a stock image they used to create something unique and totally your vision. 


7. Fine Art Galleries and Stock Use

Being exhibited in an art gallery has been a lifelong dream of mine. I recently submitted some of my work for a juried competition and international exhibition. Not only being extremely anxious about the quality of my work being good enough, I also worry that using free stock could be looked down upon.  I want to be able to take original images for my work, but have certain limitations to do so.  I'm waiting to hear back from the curator to know if I was good enough, but I'm hoping that using stock won't keep me from becoming an accomplished artist. 


I hope I was able to answer a few questions or concerns you might have had concerning using stock in your images.  I know I wasn't able to find much info on the web when I had them!  All in all, if you doubt you have rights to use an image, then don't use it. Better safe than sorry! 

If you find a piece of art I have contains an image that is no longer CC0 - please let me know!  I don't want to infringe on anyone's work! 

Feel free to post a comment or question and I will answer as best I can. I'm not perfect, but I want to help other artists the best I can. 



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Hi, I'm Kathleen!  I'm a photographer, digital artist, and mom of two. I love to travel and spend time with my kids.I am mostly focusing on digital art and photomanipulation right now. Thanks for joining me!

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