Eli Halpin ~ BLOG





This morning a person told me he was going to hang my print he purchased in his barn for his llama and goat to look at. Sounds like a wonderful place to hang my art and you’re probably thinking wow he must love his farm animals so much. I would think the same thing if I was reading this. However, I’ll never know if he is a loving animal care taker, because he wasn’t offering the art to his farm animals out of love, he was telling me this out of anger because I did not give his daughter permission to copy my paintings. 

This is the 4th person this week that has emailed me asking to use my images. Each time my answer was no. So to help my professional life become more efficient I am channeling this explanation for you into one tidy little spot, here on my website, for those interested in understanding some of the reasons why. I have studied copyright law in school and I work with copyright and intellectual property lawyers to educate and protect myself. I know what my rights are and I understand the Federal Copyright Laws. 

Please note ~ Most people who are denied permission upon asking me to copy my art are very courteous and kind to me. Some are even open to learning about copyright law and end up thanking me. So please don’t think people raging out on me behind their computer screen is common nor is that what these words are about. People, who are ignorant to the US copyright laws, that copy living visual artists without their permission has become somewhat of an epidemic amongst every professional artist I know. We spend a lot of time, emotional energy and money hiring lawyers to protect ourselves and cleaning up copy messes. It is exhausting. Seriously, some artist friends of mine teeter on the brink of emotional break downs as a result. The more success we attain, the more our art is seen, the more ewwwwyyy gewwwwwwooooeeyyyyyy sludge of copiers come out of the woodwork, in many forms. 

There are many reasons why it is not okay and not legal to copy my paintings. And when I say copy I mean both, ripping off the digital image AND looking at my painting while you try to repaint it with your own hands (also known as an unauthorized derivative).


My business model is pretty basic, it's set up like most businesses: Even if you have purchased my art, this does not give you permission to copy my art. If you bought a book, that book company doesn’t automatically grant you permission to take another book OR to take that book home and plagiarize it. If you want another one, purchase another one.  


One lawyer explained it to me this way ~ every time a person copies my art it is one less print that should have been purchased from me.

And if you think that copying is not damaging if the person doing it is young, you are wrong. Every person of every age is a special and a powerful source of life force. To create an illusion that a child isn’t powerful is insulting to that child and breeds low self esteem in their young impressionable hearts.


I have had many different situations of people stealing my paintings online in the last 10 years. I've had run of the mill scenarios like artists having entire art shows on art they painted while staring at my work trying to copy my paintings. I've had a company from China pull the digital image, reprint it on canvas and embellish it with more paint while reselling it in mass quantities all over the world. Years ago I had what you might think to be the most “mild” on the spectrum of stealing….. but as it turns out, according to one lawyer who I consulted on this, it is equally damaging as every other situation. Literally, this lawyer flipped her shit like a mamma grizzly when I asked her about it. (I LOVE this lawyer friend, she is awesome and it feels good to be educated and protected.) Here is the story ~ A 16 year old girl tagged me on Instagram. She posted a photo of a painting she was making that looked extremely similar to my llama painting. The 16 year old girl wrote on her post that she was using my llama painting to copy. (some people also like to use the word “inspired” rather than copied.. but don’t kid yourself it is still copying) It was 6 llamas just from the neck up all standing in a row with two of them touching cheeks, just like my painting. She even captured the face expressions. The 16 year old girl thought that it would be okay with me because 1.) she gave me credit, 2.) It was a gift for her grandma and 3.) she was only 16 years old so it was okay. Not okay! And not legal. None of those reasons make it okay with me to copy my art. And none of those reasons make it legal to copy my art. 

1.) I do not need credit, I have credit and it wasn’t given to me from someone who has stolen from me. It is actually damaging to post your copying acts online as it gives others a bad example. It also uses my artwork to promote your work. Seriously not cool. 2.) If you want one of my llama paintings to gift to your grandma than purchase one of mine. 3.) 6 or 16 or 66 years old, do not copy living artists work without their permission, period. It is not your decision how my art is used, it is my decision. 


There is always that one person who has to comment about copying being a compliment. All of my artist colleagues know about that one person who, like nails on a chalkboard, ignorantly comments on our Facebook feed on this subject... that being copied is a compliment. When we are trying to reach out to our fans, family, friends and buyers (and possible online thieves that are copying us) that this is not okay, do not tell us this is flattery. It is not. Admiring, respecting or buying our art is flattery, stealing it is not. It is damaging. The reasons copyright laws exist is because they are needed. Artists need protection just like any other business structure. The money that artists earn from their work is their livelihood. It is how they thrive as a human being. It is their health. It is so many things. Please do not compromise this by taking something that is not yours.

The most common reaction when people learn I am a full time artist usually runs along the lines of my career being an elusive unicorn. As if I must have some rare talent and I am just so lucky and I was just born destined to paint full time. It used to kind of bother me when I would hear that sort of feedback because of how much I have worked at it and how similar my job feels to any other business. The years that it has taken to cultivate my skills plus my commitment and determination plus all the mistakes I have learned from add up to where I am today. And that includes defending myself when needed. In addition to myself there are other companies that are thriving with me that are not only helping me succeed but also benefiting from my success. Just like any other company, my company works together with other teams and individuals to build mutually beneficial relationships. It is not just me I am protecting. This is many lives at stake and a lot of people are counting on me and our success together. 


To sum it up, if you want to use art that is not yours, ask the owner first! Some artists don’t mind at all! And if you don’t get an answer back from them, the answer is no. If you want to know if you have permission to use my artwork, unless you are a licensing company that I have signed a contract with, the answer is no. Not only is that my personal decision, but my artwork is already reserved and licensed exclusively with my publishers and retailers. My images are also registered with the Federal Copyright Office.

If you have any further questions about the dangers of copying my art feel free to reach out to me, I am happy to recommend a Copyright Attorney for you to speak with. I have a few on speed dial. Oh and if you do ask an artist for permission to copy their art and the artist says no, don't be a dick.

To be continued.


Mar 29, 2017

I love this and am going to share it with my students. No matter how often I explain this to them some of them have used all the arguments we discuss. Of course, it is a well-honored tradition to copy the Master’s (I have them copy parts of Van Gogh ink drawings to learn techniques which they sign “after Van Gogh”) and one sees art student’s copying paintings in the Louvre.)

But what has happened to you /your art is another example that people think anything on the internet is free for the taking.

Thank you,

Sheila Miles
Jan 20, 2017

Just reading this article again, because it is sooo damned good!

I just wanted to comment on what someone posted in here:

1. “It was not illegal for her to paint a resemblance of your work and give it to her grammy.”

That is actually very incorrect.

That person created a derivative version of the original, then distributed it to another person, whereupon it was viewed (propbably by many people).

Copyright law provides the copyright owner with the right to control the creation, distribution, display AND sale of all works which are derivative of the original.

2. “It is only illegal if the copy is sold.”

Sold or not has nothing to do with it. That only comes into play when assigning any damages.

The creation, distribution and display of a derivative work is specifically assigned to the copyright owner.

3. “Also, copyright is the same as having a patent. It only gives you the legal right to sue for damages or a cease and desist.”

No it is NOT the same as a patent.

Copyright Law gives the copyright owner the right to control how their creations are “expressed”. Common law provides the right to sue for damages when a specific law has been violated.

Nov 11, 2016

Interesting article and thanks so much for sharing. An idea to avoid people reproducing your work in the future from internet pictures: ensure that all internet pictures are small in size like 72ppi, that way if the art is reproduced in a larger size it will become pixelilated. As for people physically copying the art, I am not sure, that is far harder to prevent. Education is probably key I guess :)

Aug 22, 2016

I have a friend who is an artist specialised in medieval subjects (knights etc) and sometimes he finds some of is work (obviously taken from internet) on posters announcing a medieval festival or a renaissance fair etc. When it happens, he sends them a letter thanking them for appreciating his work …and the bill to pay to buy the right to use it. Usually it works – because in France such festivals and fairs are supported by their local Town Council, and local mayors and politicians certainly don’t want to be publicly involved in a copyright dispute.

Aug 21, 2016

I am astounded that someone would actually ask if they could copy your art or jewellery.

Michelle Mead
Aug 16, 2016

In a world of pintrest and richard prince, it’s no wonder youth don’t understand copyright.

Aug 09, 2016

Having worked in intellectual property and patent law myself, copying without permission is a big bad NO! It is stealing, which is illegal. There is a fine line sometimes, because many people can have similar ideas at the same time, however, you’d better be able to prove step by step how your creation was developed, or pay up. Go Gail! Rocking your rights, lady, paint away for all of us to enjoy with our eyes!!!!!

Karen Owen
Aug 09, 2016

To prevent their work being stolen from the Internet, I have seen artists set up websites that prevent right-clicks of the mouse that can lead to saving the images. Today, your website does not prevent this easy action.

Aug 08, 2016

These unauthorized copiers is not unlike those computer users who buy one copy of an application and proceed to load that program onto multiple computers. I spent a number of years as a programmer and cannot express how frustrating it has been to have others steal code directly from mine.

Jim Brown
Aug 07, 2016

I looked and looked on the internet as to whether it is ethical to copy someone else’s work. What I found was mostly …. It’s OK. So, how can so many folks get it so wrong? What about all the students that you see in the museums copying away? I’m surprised that they allow this. I want to get this right. Thanks for all this information.


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