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I need to create a vectorized version of my local city skyline.

If I use multiple artists photos as reference, is there any copyright concerns?

I realize just taking one photographers work and tracing it would be against copyright law, but can I use multiple photos as reference? If I pull a mountain range from one photo and a building from another, is there an issue?

Do I need to take my own reference photos?

Does anyone "own" the skyline of a city, or the lines of a mountain range?

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2 Answers 2

Tracing multiple photos means you are creating a derivative work from multiple sources. It's just as wrong as using one photo. And can result in each copyright holder filing a complaint rather than just one.

You can use your own reference. You can use photos which are in the public domain. Many locations will have scenic photos free of restrictions you can use.

To be clear, it's not the subject of a photo which is copyrighted (in many cases - no one owns a mountain range or skyline, but a building is owned), it's the photo itself - the lighting, the angle, the exposure, etc. - which are copyrighted.

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You mention you want to use these images as reference. If you grabbed these images, used live trace on them, and created a collage, you'd most likely be infringing copyright. As Scott mentions, the lighting, angle, exposure, etc are copyrighted.

I don't think (and this is my personal opinion, in these matters the only way to make sure is to ask a lawyer) that you are infringing it by using an image as a reference, to draw for example a silhouette. As long as you are the one creating the drawing.

Unfortunately, only you will know how much of someone else's material you used as inspiration. The extremes are easy, if you only modify the image a little and call it your own it is indeed infringement (and highly unethical). It gets progressively gray from there. I like sketching buildings and cities, and lots of times I go to the library and use books as references. I would never 'copy' a picture of, say, a person. But most references I use are frontal photos of buildings, I combine architectural elements. I don't think I'm infringing copyright.

If you have the chance to take the pictures yourself, you should definitely go for it, as you will know which angles you need the most to create a consistent skyline. If you are going to use references, I'd try to always make sure they are no more than references.

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