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Forums » RP Discussion » Question about using art as a face claim

Apologies if this isn't the right place to post this.

One glance at my characters' profiles ought to let you know that I don't generally use anything but dollmakers and the like for my characters' images, but I know I'm in the minority in that regard. Most people use art or photos as face claims. I don't really know all the etiquette of that practice since I don't do it myself, but I have to ask... When someone uses someone else's art for their character's face claim, should the person using the art credit the original artist somewhere on the character's profile? If they don't, is it art theft? If it's art theft, is there somewhere to report it?

I ask because I was idly browsing the character search on RPR and I came across a character using art I recognized from a webcomic I used to read. Curious, I looked at the character's profile, and found that the person hadn't credited the original artist anywhere on the profile (or on the writer's profile, which I also checked). I'm engaged to an artist who's trying to make a career off their art, so art theft is a pretty big deal in my mind, but I don't know what the rules or common practices are when it comes to face claims. (That uncertainty about the "rules" is part of why I don't do that myself, actually...)

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The proper thing to do is to put a link to the artists page in the profile. Adding a line in the basic info with a link can be easily done. The truely proper way is to contact the artist and request if you can use their art and if it’s a go, give credit on the profile.
I use what I call face credits and not face claims with real photos. No one can claim a real actor/actress, model's or other known celebrity's face. Usually people will not be sued for doing so responsibly but be aware that some well-known people like Youtubers are against having their face used, especially for questionable RP using graphic violence or smut or more controversial topics.

Art however, is another matter. As Robe-Scribe mention the very least is to credit the artist. If it is commissioned art that someone has paid an artist for their specific character that belongs to the artist and the person who paid the commission then it is art theft. Having commissioned art for my specific characters, I would be peeved and inform the artist as well as demand that the person take the art down that belongs to only myself and the artist.
RPR's Terms and Conditions on it:
By uploading or posting any content, including writings and images, you certify that you have the right to use said content. Please do not post copyright works to which you do not have a right or explicit permissions to use. If we are made aware of your use of copyrighted content, we will have to take it down and possibly suspend your account if you persist in posting content that does not belong to you.

However, I will say: I've discovered artists and media by simply reverse image searching peoples' uncredited art/characters, lol. So despite it technically being against the rules, these things have lead me back to the source material anyway where I continue to follow and engage with the original artists. So I feel like unless you are actively claiming art as your own and/or making a profit off of it, it's not true art theft.
Before I forget, something many people never think about: While a person's actual face, celebrity or otherwise, cannot be copyrighted, there are still two items to keep in mind with regard to photos. First, many people are intensely uncomfortable with the idea of someone using their face to represent anyone or anything that person did not agree to. There are a lot of things they may shrug off easily enough, but consider how you'd feel to discover someone you'd never met applying your face to this whole other concept of a person who may engage in behaviors and hold opinions you are strongly against, and that others are therefore also picturing you whenever engaging with this character in any activities, most of which you'll never know. I know there are also additional laws around such things, but I can never remember how they actually work out. Second: A photograph - any photograph - is protected by basic copyright from the moment it's taken. This means that no matter how okay it might be for you to reference a given person's face, you legally still need the permission of the photographer (and/or whoever else legally owns the copyright of a given image) to use any photo of them. Do not assume that using photo references works any differently from using other forms of art. It works the same, but with more to consider beyond just copyright.

That said... RPR as an entity has expressed supporting copyright and has an official stance against violations of copyright law, and there is a page about it in the Help documentation. Kim and the mods have expressed that they try to avoid assuming someone is acting maliciously, plus there are a lot of images uploaded all the time, so they stick to "good faith" assumptions unless a case is presented to them. (If you'd like to try to get an official response from an actual mod potentially faster, you can self-report this thread to create a sort of generalized "alert" for them. Reports on their own don't create any permanent mark against you or anything like that. You can also directly reach out to an individual mod.)

I imagine that being engaged to an artist, you're probably more familiar with both problem and the laws around it than most folks are; since there are many who don't understand the rules, I'm still going to take a moment to give a brief overview for the sake of anyone who reads this who might not have been aware. This is just a generalized overview, and is only what I can presently remember, so it's far from complete and I welcome correction from those who know it better than me. Also, I'm not sure how it make vary internationally, but RPR overall functions under US law anyway (that's not to disregard the value of others, just noting that that's where the standard here will generally be).
  • The moment anything is created via any medium, it is protected under copyright law. Copyright registration is an additional step that makes it easier to maintain that protection in the legal system, but the thing is considered protected regardless of registration.
  • The creator(s) of the thing hold the exclusive copyright (literally the right to produce, display, and sell copies) unless they agree to share it or some agreement gives the copyright to another party. (Granting someone permission to use the thing is not the same thing as sharing the copyright.)
  • Without permission from a copyright holder, copyright law typically allows "personal use" of a thing (for example, printing an image to stick to your wall or to use as one of your references for drawing practice); educational use of a thing (so a teacher won't be sued for showing a video in class as part of a lesson or something); or a use that has significantly altered the thing enough for it to qualify as a new thing (this is what things like parodies and reviews rely on, and they still have to be exceptionally careful to do enough to qualify).
  • Works which have aged out of copyright enter the Public Domain and can be used basically by anyone for anything. The normal process requires decades to pass after the death of the creator/copyright holder, but some creators explicitly declare their own creations to be Public Domain, while others maintain their copyrights and simply apply some form of licencing that may or may not grant usage permission beyond what copyright law permits.
  • Efforts to simplify the licencing process exist, such as Creative Commons (CC) licencing. Many people incorrectly assume that anything with CC or similar licencing is basically Public Domain; what CC really does is provide a sort of sliding scale of permissions licences that a creator can attach to a work to let everyone who sees that work know what they are and are not openly given permission to do. Examples of things the licene may effectively say...
    • Anyone can can use this work as they wish. (Basically, so long as you don't claim you made it or own its copyright, do as you please.)
    • Anyone can can use this work as they wish so long as it's non-commercial/they don't try to sell it or profit from it.
    • Anyone can use this work so long as it is displayed with credit to me.
    • This work is not available for any use (beyond what copyright laws allow) by anyone I have not personally, individually granted permission to.

Most of what goes on here probably qualifies as "personal use" so long as the user doesn't claim to be the creator, but being sure to visibly credit the creator (by name, preferably with a link back to the artist or original work) can help clarify that you're not taking credit and that you have at least basic respect for the artist (a general "I didn't make any of these, credit to their owners" just makes you look like a lazy jerk who couldn't be bothered to even try, and further implies that you do not have permission to use any of those images). Even so, if there's an image you want to use, it's both legally safest and just plain basic respect to the creator to:
  1. identify the creator/legal copyright holder (this may require using a reverse image search)
  2. look for a permissions statement from the creator, specifically for that work (different permissions may be granted on different works)
  3. if you can't find a permissions statement, figure out how you can contact the creator to ask (yes, this make require a lot of effort)
  4. if there is no permissions statement and the creator does not tell you that you have permission, then you don't have permission

Yes, it's a lot of work for what something that might not even give you any results. (Congrats, you have a fragment of an idea if what creators have to deal with.) If you're able to find a way to contact them, it may help to describe/provide a link to how/where you want to use the image and to ask how (not if) they would prefer to be credited if they give permission. Even if the context might fall out of legally requiring this, it's still polite, and it increases the chance of being given permission because you're offering to help them actually get any recognition for the work they do. But, if they still say no... drop it and start looking for a different image. Follow through on the respect by heeding their wishes.

And besides that... be aware that patents and trademarks are both different from copyright and from each other. Copyright is for set things created in a media - any image, any writing, any recording, any sculpture, any produced design, etc. Copyright does not apply to ideas or concepts; that's the domain of patents, and patents actually do have requirements to qualify for protection. So for instance, you can copyright a story, but not the plot, themes, character archetypes, etc. Additionally though, the more commercialized of an entity that you're dealing with, the more likely it is that characters, specific concept designs, etc, will also be trademarked; while copyright determines in general whether or not someone is allowed to use a specific thing that was made, trademark ties a specific design or name to the owners very identity, so that anything featuring that design is meant to be thought of as something the owner themself is saying or doing. Because of how trademark law works, a trademark owner is basically required to to monitor its use and sue over any unauthorized use or the owner risks losing their trademark entirely. (So... there's a degree to which companies have to be jerks about that even if it's a minor thing they don't consider worth the time, effort, or money, and I have no idea how severely the internet and some other developments may have messed that up by now.)

One more note. I might be wrong, but as I understand it... things made in dollmakers and similar programs still exist with the copyright belonging to the creator of the art/pieces, not belonging to the one who assembled the pieces. It might actually fall into counting as a new creation, but that's a huge maybe. It's best to treat dollmaker creations and similar things as still under the original artist's copyright, and I have seen ones that explicitly state that they do not give permission for those creations to be used anywhere. I might have to do a dollmaker creation purge myself, depending on if I can even locate some of the dollmakers again, because there have been many cases where I just assumed.
Kidd wrote:
However, I will say: I've discovered artists and media by simply reverse image searching peoples' uncredited art/characters, lol. So despite it technically being against the rules, these things have lead me back to the source material anyway where I continue to follow and engage with the original artists. So I feel like unless you are actively claiming art as your own and/or making a profit off of it, it's not true art theft.

I'm going to respectfully disagree with you. It's art theft unless you are not only crediting and linking to the artist, but also have reached out to them and obtained their permission to use the art. If you can't get in touch with the original artist, or if they said no, then you really shouldn't be using the art.

I say this because artists may not be okay with someone taking their art to use for another character. I know as an artist, my characters mean a lot to me; I would be uncomfortable with someone taking a drawing I did of one of them and used it for their own character, even if they credited me.

I have a couple of other artist friends who feel the same way, and most of the artists I've ever seen discussing this issue have said the same or similar. Many artists will explicitly state in their descriptions/bios/etc. that they don't want their art used for other characters. While there are certainly artists out there who don't mind, in my experience they're more the exception than the rule. So we shouldn't default to assuming that an artist will be okay with anyone using their art.

Even if people are willing to click linked images or reverse image search to find the artist, it's not just about giving artists exposure; it's also about respecting the artist's intentions for their own hard work.

As for how all this applies to dollmakers, I'm not sure. I think it varies from case to case, as some people make dollmakers specifically for this purpose. I would check out picrew, as many of the avatar makers there are happy to let people use their work on other sites.

Edit to answer OP's question about where to report art theft: If you decide to report it, you can just hit the Report button at the top of the character's profile. It won't necessarily get the user in trouble, it just lets you explain your concerns to the admins and then they can decide if action needs to be taken.
Cass Moderator

This is why I love this community. I think all of you answered this post beautifully, I couldn't have put it better myself. :) When you make a report for art theft purposes, please contact the artist and send us screenshots / any proof that you know the art is copyrighted. It helps us out and moves things along much quicker!

I do want to clarify a couple of things: using art and placing a 'credit' (i.e., a link to the original content) does not mean you can still use it. You explicitly would have needed to commission the artwork yourself (paid for it yourself), or have written consent from the artist that you can use it. There are lots of resources on the web that allow free use such as usplash or checking on deviantart for specific artists permissions on their content.

Edit: As an important mention, someone 'reported' this post to grab a moderator's attention so we could help. Which might help ease any concerns about the report button being used to get someone in trouble (which it does not!)

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