Is it okay to vectorize this image to make a poster out of it even though the image is not Creative Commons or anything like that? I'm not using any part of the image directly and only going to use it as a guide to make my own SVG version.

This is the image:

50 Years of Space Exploration image

Here is original Image.

It says that it is CC licensed but the original NatGeo one isn't, I don't think.

I don't plan to make money off it or anything, I just want a nice poster and the quality of the original isn't that good.

  • 2
    Just clarifying : Copyright infringement and theft are two different laws. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 10:36

5 Answers 5


Yes, a vectorized image generally counts as a derivative of the original, which means that distributing it without the original copyright holder's permission would be a copyright violation.

Of course, if you just want to make a nice poster to hang on your own wall, then you're probably safe — doing so may or may not be legal, depending on your local laws, but realistically, who's going to bother to sue you?

(Please note that I'm not trying to encourage you to break any laws, just stating a fact. You should find out whether your local laws permit this kind of copying for personal use, and make your own informed decision about whether it's wise to do so.)

If you intend to sell your poster, though, or even distribute it for free, I'd strongly advise against it — if for no other reason, than because the image you linked to looks very much like something that National Geographic might want to sell as a poster themselves. That might significantly increase their motivation to sue you if they find you stealing their potential profits.

Ps. It turns out that the image is for sale as a poster at least here and here. I had no luck with any of the obvious searches, but then I thought to try the artist's name plus "poster".

  • I wasn't going to distribute it or profit from it, that would feel morally wrong, let alone being illegal. Those links look interesting though. I spent a while trying to find a poster version and didn't really get anywhere so that's awesome. I just need to find one selling it in the UK/Europe. Thank you!
    – Durand
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 1:37
  • @Durand: The fineartamerica.com site seems to do international delivery, although you'll end up paying nearly as much for shipping as for the poster itself. Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 14:19
  • Ah yeah, but then there's also customs to think about. Its good to know that option exists and I'm not desperate anyway!
    – Durand
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 23:28

I haven't read about anyone being sued for vectorizing, but I have read about someone being sued for pixelating.

enter image description here

After seven months of legal wrangling, we reached a settlement. Last September, I paid Maisel a sum of $32,500 and I'm unable to use the artwork again.

Pixelating is removing detail whereas vectorizing would be adding detail (if you do it right). If removing detail is punishable in a court of law, it's likely that this case can be used as a precedent for ripping off someone and increasing the detail.

  • Yay, thats fun to know! :(
    – Durand
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 22:20
  • Thanks for the help, I had no idea that vectorizing was such a big deal before now!
    – Durand
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 1:43
  • 6
    The actual point of law is whether or not your new work is a "derived work". A derived work is anything that uses the existing work as part of it, even if it is heavily modified, processed, transferred, composited, translated etc. So obviously both of these are examples of a derived work, as too was the Obama Hope poster. Making a derived work requires permission or license from the copyright holder just as copying and redistributing the original would. Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 0:46
  • @thomasrutter is it the actual making of the work that would require permission or license or is it the publishing of the work? Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 11:00
  • Copyright affects the actual creation of the derivative work, whether you publish it not. Of course, if you don't publish it people are not likely to find out about it, but it's still a violation if done unlicensed. Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 23:31

The guy who created the Obama Hope poster was dinged for violating AP's copyright. While I'm not a lawyer, I'd say if it's for your personal use, you're probably not going to get sued, but if you put it out into the world in any capacity, and/or if you try to make money from it, you'll be in trouble.

  • I figured that distributing it would definitely be illegal so I was only going to use it to print it out myself and if someone specifically asks me about it. Thanks for the help!
    – Durand
    Commented Jan 16, 2012 at 1:34

This is what I could find from copyright laws: [Let me try an clarify that a bit: If you find a piece of art or photo and use it without the creator’s permission, then it is “yes” to all three and you are infringing.

If you take a photo and trace it to do an illustration, then it is “yes” to all three and you are infringing. - https://graphicartistsguild.org/tools_resources/avoiding-copyright-infringement#sthash.59Frmi6a.dpuf ]

From that right there, it sounds like ANY vectorized art from anything under copyright is considered a violation of copyright laws (unfortunately) and you can be prosecuted for it.


Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, so the following observation is not legal advice. If you want legal advice, hire a lawyer.

Here's the way I see it.

So, basically someone on flicker uploaded it (stole it) and marked it as CC, but the original doesn't belong to them, so they have absolutely no authority to licence the image at all - and you have no rights to use it or make a derivative works without the permission of the copyright holder.

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