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The low-down on Street Art

Richard B. Levine / Alamy Stock Photo

I’m sure many of you will have received an email from your helpful neighbourhood Copyright team by now (if you want to find out more about us, check out this blog post where we explained what we do). We might have contacted you about changing some annotations, or maybe it was about removing images, but as always, we perform these actions to protect you.

One of the areas that seems to have some contention, is that of Street Art. With an increasing number of images being uploaded to our platform daily, this means we have also seen an increase not only in the number of complaints in general, but specifically those by muralists and street artists. We understand that it is frustrating to have photos that you’ve worked hard on removed, but with numerous legal cases being either won by the street artists or settled for undisclosed fees, hopefully you can appreciate that the actions we take are for your benefit.

Firstly, lets quickly explain the difference between context and no context, for anyone who isn’t sure. The only way I could think to describe it using photo examples, was with some tasty looking raspberries. The top ones have no context to them, as we don’t have any information about their surroundings. The bottom ones are displayed in the subject of their surroundings, and therefore have context. I’m hoping that makes sense, and that I haven’t just made things even more confusing.

Simon Jonathan Webb / Alamy Stock Photo
Valentyn Volkov / Alamy Stock Photo

Our general rule of thumb is that if your images of artwork have no context to them, then those images should remain for your personal use, and shouldn’t be uploaded to us. This is because there is more likelihood of them being seen as an infringement of the artists copyright, and potentially an attempt to claim the work as your own (which we know isn’t the case, but the artists and their lawyers may beg to differ).

If your images have context to them though, such as part of a wider street scene, then you can upload them, but you must add an ‘Editorial Use Only’ restriction, as this should put them in line with the Fair Use/Dealing exemptions under various copyright laws.

Controversy ahead, you’ve been warned…

We know that some of you may feel that these actions are excessive, and that if they didn’t want their art to be used, then why paint it in public, which we do understand. However, I want to put something out there that is going to be controversial. An artist complaining about photos of their artwork is not too dissimilar to a contributor complaining about an unauthorised use (throw the tomatoes, I’ve accepted my fate). Think about it for a second though; you both have created a piece of work, and someone else is using, and potentially profiting off of it, without your permission. Now I’m not a confrontational person, and writing this makes me feel like a pantomime villain, but I want you to put yourself in their shoes, even if just for 10 seconds, and hopefully you can understand where they’re coming from.

I know my last paragraph may have got you a little hot under the collar, but we want you to know that we do our research, and validate complaints we receive before we take any action, and if need be we’ll seek our own legal advice. There are two sides to every story; you and the artist have both created art, but we don’t want that art to cause any of us any legal woes.

So what is the one thing I want you to take away from this? In short, Context + Editorial Only Restrictions = Good, No Context = Bad.

If you have any questions or comments, then drop us an email at copyright@alamy.com.

  • Jeffrey Silvers

    Not sure the example provided helps…I know this is not about raspberries, but are you really saying that an image without context is of no commercial value? Surely someone somewhere wants an image of raspberries (or whatever medium) without any surrounding distractions. No-one could lay claim to holding the copyright to fresh raspberries…or am I missing the point. Perhaps a few examples of `good’ and `bad’ street art would help?

    • David Pimborough

      You are missing the point the examples were about putting items in context not copyright on fruit.

      I’m sure Alamy could have found a better example than a bowl of raspberries

  • Ian Murray

    Plenty of works of art are now in the public domain even if there is no context. I suggest that to put the article in ..er…context

  • Makes perfect sense to me. Context is king when dealing in editorial content. Without context I can see where there might be a legal case of copyright infringement on street art. It is not very difficult to provide the context needed by adjusting photographic technique.

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