Is it ‘right’ to copy?


By Niloufer Wadia

Today, for the nth time, someone directed me to a hobby artist’s social media feed saying, “I think that’s a copy of your work.”

It was.

These are the emotions that run through me in roughly the same order each time, – Oh no, not again! How bloody shameless! How dare they! That’s a lousy /really good copy. Damn, what shall I do about this?

At this point if I can, I access the account where invariably half a dozen people have already congratulated the “artist” on great work, I leave a short, often rude comment about how they seem to have forgotten to credit me /ask my permission. I leave it several times on various related posts, sometimes marking the people who have inquired about buying the product.

Ultimately, I push the episode out of my head and let it go simply because it’s built up so much unnecessary negative energy within me, and probably already eaten into at least an hour of my time if not more. Often others goad me on saying, “You should sue them!” Errr…. Really? Lawyers, our court system, time, money, negative energy? I don’t have enough to spare.

This happens about once a month at least. I don’t flatter myself that I’m “famous”; I barely do a dozen paintings in a year. It’s possible my style is just really simple to copy.

The thing is, just because I don’t move further on this does not mean it doesn’t matter to me. It does.

I am appalled at these people. And I have some things to say to them.

If you are copying then remember this:

  1.  If you’re copying work on a regular basis, please don’t call yourself an artist. Copying is really great for practice and learning, but it belongs on your private desk, not on social media.
  2. If you’re selling copies of my art or products on which they are printed or painted then you’re not just copying but a thief. I’ve had more than one incident of this by reasonably well known brands and this makes me the most furious. It’s always blamed on a junior level artist or outside vendor. Both these hold little water in my book. You, the art director / buyer / quality control manager are ultimately responsible, and don’t you wonder even once where your designs come from? Also, it speaks very poorly for your awareness that you don’t immediately recognize something familiar. If you go through products of companies who copy one image, you will see a pattern; a lot of Indian miniatures and tribal art and several vaguely ‘familiar’ pieces. Obviously your artists lack creativity and you should keep a particularly sharp eye on their output. Whatever may be the case, do NOT profit off me.
  3. Some people apologize very nicely or even ask permission before hand, which I give happily, and then add a note to their social media, “inspired by the fantastic art of Niloufer Wadia”. Thank you for the flattery but please be clear, this is not “inspiration”. For example, I was inspired by the art of Bolivian artist Alfredo Lopez, Thota Vaikuntam and Jamini Roy to realize I really could create ‘fine art’ while sticking to my love of graphics and flat, large, flowing shapes. I was inspired by a Gond art workshop I did to incorporate small complex patterns in my backgrounds. I’m inspired by the colour combination used by some fashion designers, and always inspired by traditional Indian jewellery. I do sometimes use references material for costumes, patterns, a kind of flowers or bird. Everyday I’m inspired by new artists’ work. But it must all come together to form a piece of art that is completely unique, different from the ‘inspirations’ and wholly mine.
  4. If somebody looks at your work and mistakes it for mine or knows it’s origin immediately, then be assured, this is not inspiration, but copying – usually an exact copy.
  5. When I’m feeling nice or the artist is very young, I suggest to them that they may use my style perhaps but should put their own elements into the image, changing it so it’s unrecognisable.
  6. Don’t say you found it on Google. That doesn’t absolve you of wrong doing. Everything on Google, whether a photograph or a painting /illustration or of course an article, was created by somebody and so belongs to that person. If you want details check in ‘tools’ for release specifications. Some art is Creative Commons, ie., open for use, either because the creator is very long dead or very generous. Others have limitations. And even if it’s just the image of a caveman’s painting, if you’ve copied it exactly, it’s a copy, not ‘inspiration’.
  7. I’m not an expert at copyright and all the laws involved but there is no question that the creator of a piece of art is its owner, even if the art is sold to a collector.

I hate to say this but every single experience I’ve had of this kind is from India and the Indian sub-continent.

I’ve been to group art exhibitions and even the well acclaimed Chitra Sante in Bangalore where at least 70% of work is a recognizable copy of some artist’s or another; I’m really not exaggerating. At this years’ Chitra Sante my 11 year old said loudly at least half a dozen times, “look mamma, your painting!” Some were really, really bad and it was actually just embarrassing rather than upsetting because these were of course self proclaimed ‘artists’. It’s very clear that we are absolutely unaware of the need to ask permission to use art or imagery and have absolutely no respect for the creator. It also speaks volumes of the naivety, stupidity or shamelessness that in this age of social media where you can find anything at all in seconds, you imagine that your crime of copying will go unnoticed.

Precisely because its so easy for young people to access anything they want via the Internet today, I feel very strongly that this and ethics in general should now be covered in the classroom and certainly in art schools.

Believe me, artist, when every inch of your artwork is your own creation, you’ll feel a special glow from within and it will be noticed. And then even if someone says, ‘oh that looks like the work of So-and-so, (and I get that a lot) you can say proudly, yes, I’m a fan, but it’s inspired, not copied.”

To others, I would like to say, please call out an artist when you see an obvious copy. Point it out. Sometimes it’s difficult because you may know them well, but do it anyway, privately. Express how you’re concerned they may be breaking the law. But do it so they realize they can’t get away with it.


Everyday we come across so many works that are copies. Some even find their way into exhibitions and are sold. With artists posting their work on social media this is becoming commonplace. We wanted to bring to our community the views  and anguish of an artist whose has been at the receiving end of plagiarism too many times. Make the pursuit of art an enjoyable experience that makes you happy and does not hurt another artist. —The TAEP team

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