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I have some stock vector files from istock that I'd like to use as the starting point for a logo. I'd like to stress I wouldn't be using the original image in the logo - but using as a starting point to develop a new piece of work.

The license agreement states that you can't use the file as a logo - but what about work created using bits from the vector file?

Many thanks in advance for all replies.

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What about integrated work? –  muntoo Feb 16 '11 at 0:56
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3 Answers

According to the U.S. copyright act:

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more pre-existing works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”

The question is, of course, how far you have to remove it from the original work for it to be considered "derivative". The wikipedia article on Derivative Work is pretty good (and long). What I've always been told is that if it's clear that the new work is different from the original it's usually considered "derivative".

Another standard that's considered is "transformativeness" (again, see the wikipedia article for a more exhaustive explanation). Are you bringing a new vision or opinion of the original?

If you're incorporating elements of stock photos it's probably safer to buy them - in the long run they're not that expensive. If you're using them as a starting point and it's clear that your work is largely different from the original you are probably okay. Keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer and I haven't seen what you're trying to do so these comments are general points.

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. You need to consult a lawyer to get a definitive answer.

You're now getting into a very hazy area of copyright law, and copyright law doesn't do much to help. There are a few ways of looking at this.

  • The first says that using a portion of the original image would be considered "fair use".
  • The second says to use the portion that you like as a guide and then recreate the image in your own style.
  • The final way is to simply use the portion as inspiration and create your own logo not directly derived from the original.

It's really up to you to decide what is most appropriate for your situation and what you are most comfortable with. Reread the agreement to see if there is some "derivatives works" clause, and act accordingly. Otherwise, I would just go with the third option.

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The safest bet is not to use the original file in the building of a derivative. If you were inspired by another person's art to create something, great! Now create a new and different version with that inspiration from scratch.

Make your own sketch on a blank canvas with that spark of inspiration in mind. At the most, use a piece here or there from the original as a template that you trace over for proportion reference.

Bottom line:
Never use pieces of the original file to create your unlicensed derivative.

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