May I or may i not,
If you are an artist like me who aims to get the most accurate and realistic drawing by using reference photos then here's a few things to consider. If you find a photograph that you want to use as a reference you need to have certain permissions.
If you purchase a stock photo or any royalty free photo you can use the photo and recreate it however you want and then make a profit from the artwork you created. You cannot use the actual reference photo to make any profits but whatever you have created from that photo is yours and you can do with it what you want.
Photographers watermarked photos
If you come across a photo that you really want to use as a reference but it is not royalty-free then you will have to contact the photographer and ask permission to use the photo. Without written permission from the photographer you may not use the photo and reproduce an artwork from it.
No author for the photo
If you cannot find an author for a photograph you are better off not using the photo. You risk being caught by the author later on and can be penalised by copyright laws.
Copying from an artwork belonging to another artist
You cannot copy from another artists' artwork. They will have full copyright over that work and you will be infringing on copyright laws if you copy another artists work. If the artist gives you permission to copy and make profit from their art then you can go ahead but this is very unlikely. If an artist used a royalty free photo to produce their art then you can use that same royalty free photo to reproduce your art, but you can only use that photo not the artists reproduction of the photo.
When is it okay to copy other artists?
It is only okay to copy from another artist if they give you permission to. For example, I encourage other artists to copy some of my art pieces for the sake of learning. I provide weekly drawing tutorials and this is the only time I would give permission for others to copy my work. Even though I have given them permission to copy my work does not mean they can sell it for a profit. The only time it is okay to draw absolutely anything without worrying about permissions is when it is for practice, if you are in no way making any sort of income from it then you may draw whatever you chose without worrying about copyright.
What if I am commissioned to do an artwork?
If you are commissioned to draw from a photograph, does it mean you can do whatever you want with the drawing after the original is sent to the commissioning client? No, you will still need permission from the client if you want to sell prints of your artwork. When a client commissions you to create an artwork for them they are paying you for the artwork and all rights of that artwork. If you want to sell prints of your commissioned art you need to make an agreement with the client to do so. Some artists put disclaimers on their websites stating that they will not take on commissions if they cannot sell prints of their art.
So a simple rule to remember when you are concerned about copyright is 'if you don't have permission, don't draw it' (this is only taking into account photographs and other existing artworks, not still life).
The YouTube video explaining this blog post is below.
Happy drawing everyone.