I can't quite figure this one out. I am not copying a custom piece of work, I am copying something that is available in nature, bones. I am also not tracing it, I am drawing by hand using them as a reference for accuracy. So, is that considered copyright infringement? Does it depend on how similar my drawings are to the ones I visually copied?

So if I look at a medical website or book and see a knee bone, then I draw one on paper or in a graphics editing tool by looking, with my eyes, at the referenced image, is that going to get me in trouble somehow?

I mean, surely I don't have to go find my own skeleton to draw from... right??

2 Answers 2


This is dodging the intent of the question a bit, but you could use the original Gray's Anatomy illustrations sources at Bartleby and Wikimedia. They're from the 1918 edition and are generally regarded as being in the public domain (IANAL).

  • "generally regarded" sounds great... but for my purposes I'm going to need more certainty than that... for example, could I slice them up and use them in a web application, an app that is for sale, etc?
    – MetaGuru
    Oct 18, 2012 at 19:44
  • Cool, on Wikimedia the images I am looking at say "This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies worldwide."!
    – MetaGuru
    Oct 18, 2012 at 19:56

Well, depending on the copyright license, medical drawings are treated equal to any other subject being drawn.

Here is a question about making drawings using photographs as a reference.

From a case ruling quoted on that site:

"To prove infringement, a plaintiff with a valid copyright must demonstrate that: (1) the defendant has actually copied the plaintiff's work; and (2) the copying is illegal because a substantial similarity exists between the defendant's work and the protectible elements of plaintiff's"

An interpretation of this could be: the pose, shading, angle, etc are "protectible elements", while human anatomy itself isn't. (But we're not lawyers!)

If your drawings aren't too blatantly copied you're probably safe under fair use.

  • Oof. I always hate it when people don't quote the gist of a link they provide, and now I did it myself. Thanks for having my back. :)
    – Maarten
    Oct 18, 2012 at 19:38

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