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Submitted on
February 5, 2009


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Over the past week, we've seen a number of wide ranging attempts within our community to detail various misinterpretations of Copyright Law in particular in relation to tracing.  In order to provide clarification in this area, this article presents to you an easy break down of the guidelines which we have had in place for over 2 years, and our policies specific to this particular method of creating art.

First of all, let's take a moment to go over our core values.


We believe that our community is our most important resource and we strive to act in ways that nurture and encourage its growth, development and ultimately its ongoing success. We err on the side of the artist.


We treat each other with respect, as we believe that every staff member, volunteer, and member is a contributing factor to deviantART's success. We acknowledge that even those that challenge our patience offer important lessons we can learn from and strive to do so.


We share a passion for excellence, quality and creativity in everything we do and strive to instill these values in our community.


We are artists and we reserve time for creative expression. We recognize the importance of nurturing our inner artist, as not only beneficial to ourselves, but also integral to our connection with the community.


We build trust among ourselves and within the community by being true to our word. We speak honestly and with integrity and hold ourselves personally accountable to deliver on commitments we've made.


We believe in a commitment to continuous learning and improvement, and maintaining open, positive communication that encourages and fosters creative genius.

With these values in mind, we can now begin to look at the key areas which appear to cause confusion, and provide you with a final guideline to assist you in understanding our view regarding tracing and the ways in which we enforce any associated policy.


That's something many people believe. Many people believe that photography isn't art either, or that photomanipulation is cheating. Some people say rolling on a canvas nude whilst covered with paint results in art. Some disagree. The debate "What is art?" is something which will go on forever, and will be answered differently by every individual to which the question is posed. There are some people who believe that photographing a dog as it starves to death is art, and back in the 1960's Piero Manzoni provided us with "Merda d'Artista" - - he sealed his excrement (that's poop for you newbs) in a bunch of cans, which he signed, mounted and then sold as art. We are aware that some people reading this article right now believe that tracing is not an art -- and that's ok, we respect your right to have your own opinion, and this does not prevent you from participating in our community

At deviantART we believe that tracing has a place in our community. We consider it to be a valid learning tool and a technique which has been used long before we had any such applications such as Illustrator or Photoshop. Tracing is how Michelangelo's assistants transferred his "cartoons" onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chappell.  We believe that it is the right of any individual to express themselves within our policies and to share their creativity with the community, interact with other deviants and grow as an artist.


DeviantART has a clearly stated copyright policy. We provide an easily accessed mechanism on deviantART for the copyright owner to request that we correct any alleged infringements of copyright interests.  Still, deviantART also respects and promotes artistic expression in its very many forms.  

Certain genres of art are more derivative than others.  Collage, for example, is typically done entirely with "found" images gleaned from a variety of sources but mostly copyrighted.  There are only so many ways to photograph a rose and only so many ways to draw the Taj Mahal.  A copyright will only attach to the very specifics of the image in those circumstances and not at all to the subject matter.

The law of copyright, written to protect the work of artists, also has overt protections for artists when they use, borrow or incorporate the copyrighted works of others.  Some of these protections are called fair use.  Fair use is necessarily fuzzy because it balances the conflict between the protection of copyrighted works and the use of copyrighted works.  Fair use permits Jeff Koons, to make and sell much of his sculpture which is largely derivative of cultural icons, many of which are copyrighted in their original states.  Fair use permitted Andy Warhol to do silkscreen works incorporating famous, copyrighted photographs.

Fair use can apply when there is a reason to copy in order to make a new artistic statement. The analysis of whether a given use is a "fair use" is the most complex and nuanced in copyright law.  Among the factors it considers is whether the use is commercial or non-commercial.  Many uses of works on deviantART are entirely non-commercial. We do not permit the sale of FanArt within our Print Store because we want to avoid involvement in a commercial exploitation of a copyrighted character.

In simple terms, "Fair use" is a legal concept that allows exceptions to copyright law, defined by how much of the original is used, how and why the original is used, what the new work is used for and how the original artwork is affected by the new work.

Although the rights given to a copyright owner are extensive and include the exclusive right to permit others to make copies of the work, copyright owners are not required to use those rights and are also not required to police or attempt to stop infringements of the copyright by others.  The copyright itself survives and the copyright owner can engage in selective policing without essentially any reduction in the level of protection they can later claim if they need to.  This is unlike trademarks and patent laws.  When you consider that a copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 or 70 years after his or her death, it is impossible to imagine a copyright owner of a popular work suing everybody who might be involved in infringement.  There is, in fact, a rational expectation that only meaningful infringements, ones that result in a significant economic harm, will be pursued by copyright owners.  For example, there is a concept called "de minimis" infringement applied by Courts to deny relief to a copyright owner essentially on the "no harm, no foul" premise.

There are many circumstances where copyright owners freely and openly encourage and support the use of their works by others.  Stock images are frequently dedicated for open use in non-commercial applications.  Fan art is also one of these situations.

With this in mind, we welcome artists who prefer to use tracing as a method of expression to participate in our community, providing they meet with the simple guidelines detailed below.


We allow for the submission of completed traced works within the FanArt Galleries providing it is a tracing -- not just a copy -- and you bring your own, original elements into the completed deviation.  

If you chose to trace a stock image, either from our extensive deviantART resource gallery or from a legitimate external stock source such as or, this can be submitted into the vector or vexel gallery (depending on the method which you use) and we encourage you to supply the appropriate references.

Some deviants and others provide allowance for their artwork to be used within Creative Commons Licensing, which they indicate within the deviation description. Artists who are misled and confused into believing that our tracing policy permits anyone to take any image on deviantART and simply trace it without permission should be assured that we will always remove this when requested by the artist of the original image, and you should use the appropriate reporting tools to bring it to our attention, so we can remove it.

We  encourage artists to take personal responsibility to  ensure that you check the above points before submitting any traced works, in order to avoid disappointment or distress should your work require removal for its failure to comply with any of the above.

It should also be noted, that despite the principles of fair use discussed earlier, we do not allow the use of third-party copyrighted images within the digital art and photomanipulation galleries because of the exposuire they present to deviantART as an administrative burden.

If you are ever in doubt of where you stand regarding the above, please contact us via the help. We can help you with any questions you may have as to whether or not your submission will be appropriate and within policy.


Did Bob help write deviantART Policy? If you can answer YES,  I'll give you $100 to spend in our store.

If not - then you should refer them back to read this article.


Some of you believe that traced work should go to the scrapbook within your gallery. In exploring this idea, it became clear that many of you came to this conclusion based on incorrect notion that somehow calling something a scrap magically lifts it out of copyright and policy considerations. It doesn't particularly do that.

At deviantART we felt that it was more appropriate to provide education to the community on this matter in order to break down some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding tracing. We feel that by providing this information, that we can begin to break down some of the negative attitude which is thrown against certain members of the community who prefer to include traced elements within their work. After all, we are an inclusive - not exclusive, art community.


We'd like to thank you all for participating in what was at times a somewhat heated discussion surrounding this topic. It's important to us at deviantART that you are aware of not only your rights as an artist, but that you are encouraged to take responsibility for your own integrity, ultimately allowing you to become an empowered individual who can confidently express yourself. In the near future, we will bring you more articles like this, which provide you with a simplistic guide to what is at times a very complex field of legalese, and look forward to your ever enthusiastic participation in developing what appears to be a much needed knowledge base on such matters.

And very last, we do have a lawyer and he says I need to point out that this article only contains a very broad general discussion of some copyright principles and it is not actual legal advice that you should rely on elsewhere.

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Evil-Rick Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
And is for things like this that deviantart keeps loosing more and more credibility.
AnUberIsChu Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2014
"we welcome artists who prefer to use tracing as a method of expression to participate in our community"

Glad to see this site's the same as it always was.
Stephromancy Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2014  Professional Interface Designer
I say bring on the stealing, as long as it's hilarious and provides me with entertainment, like this rather unique piece of raw artistic talent and incomparable skill

My drawing:…
Copy of my drawing:…

It's like looking into a mirror in a horror movie where your reflection is all distorted and scary looking.
ladyweasel Featured By Owner May 16, 2014   Digital Artist
I bet if I were to trace an admin's art piece and add "original elements" to the traced work, then my work would not only be reported and removed but my account would either be suspended or banned. :O Or would they not mind? Either way, as others had stated, this rule only encourages art thieves, not creativity. I know this journal is old, but people still comment on it; I just wanted to add my two cents.
Cali-Purp Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2014  Student Digital Artist
If you really believe tracing original work encourages theft then maybe you have never done art in school? In school tracing is a fundamental taught to beginner artist and it helps them form their own style and does encourage creativity!
Evil-Rick Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That's  referencing, not tracing, check the definition and diference between both mate.
KrisCynical Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
"...tracing is a fundamental taught to beginner artist and it helps them form their own style and does encourage creativity!"

As an art workshop teacher and tutor here on dA, I can tell you that is about as far from the truth as you can possibly be. :\

Tracing is NOT a fundamental technical aspect of art, and it's only useful for cleaning up your own rough sketches (which is also the only acceptable use of tracing within art school). It certainly doesn't help young artists develop their own style -- all they're doing is tracing the lines put down by another artist in THEIR style.

Artists that young don't need to worry about style anyway. In art school, style isn't addressed until toward the end of your junior year and through your senior year, which is when you receive guidance in "finding" your style. Style is something that develops after the basics (or "reality") have been mastered to the point of being able to convincingly bend that reality without completely breaking it, thus forming a new reality with its own set of rules.

When reality is bent to the point of breaking, that's what is called "crappy anatomy that makes no sense".

Tracing only hinders creativity, because those who do nothing but trace have never learned how to draw on their own in order to BE creative. They have to have someone else's guidelines in order to draw anything. It doesn't teach you to expand beyond what you're tracing, and it quickly becomes a crutch for many young artists because of that.

Tracing teaches you nothing but how to follow a line that's directly in front of your pencil to directly recreate it, which is why it's only useful for teaching preschoolers how to write.

That's why eyeball copying is encouraged in the teen years rather than tracing, because that's what still life drawing really is at its source: eyeball copying what's set up in front of you.

Eyeball copying makes the artist look at the form, proportion, spacing, etc., of the image they're looking at in order to correctly reproduce it on their own sheet of paper. It teaches you form, composition, proportion, negative space, anatomy, and basically how to "see" as an artist to transfer what you're looking at through your hand to the paper.

Eyeballing in art school is usually called "master copying", and it's usually done in painting class. The student chooses a master's painting and reproduces it to the best of their ability, because reproducing it makes them explore the meathods that the master used when originally creating the piece, and through exploring and recreating those methods, the student learns those methods.

If you trace another artist's work in art school, on the other hand, all it does is get you expelled for plagiarism, because that's all it is. Even eyeball copying another artist's work will get you expelled if it's not an exercice in reproduction.

When kids try to learn how to draw by tracing, all they do is stunt their own growth and put themselves behind the usual "curve" of artistic development for their age bracket. That's why it absolutely shouldn't be taught in art classes past Elementary school.
ladyweasel Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2014   Digital Artist
Sorry for the late response; my internet wasn't working until now. I already know that tracing teaches the fundamentals to the beginner artist, but when that is all the artist does and they don't try to branch off and learn how to draw on their own is when tracing becomes a problem. Also, if they don't get the permission from the original artist to trace their work and properly give them credit, they would be labeled as an art thief. I should know; I used to trace.

It became a hindrance in my development as an artist. That is why my art is not where I want it to be. Besides, I also know how it feels to have one's artwork stolen; some of my artwork have been stolen over the years. One could say it was karma for the time when I was tracer, but that didn't and still doesn't make me feel better for having my hard work taken away from me. I am certain that is how the artists who have been the victim of art theft feel every time someone steals, traces, and claims their artwork as their own.

Sorry for the long post; I just wanted to get my two cents in. Oh, and thanks for the :llama:.
Cali-Purp Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2014  Student Digital Artist
You're welcome
KashimusPrime Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Tracing fan art and claiming you did it is indeed considered theft because it's not your original idea and that you're leeching off of someone else's creativity. I believe tracing should only be done to teach yourself to draw. The results should never be shown online since you didn't originally make it. The way you described tracing in school makes it sound like you're in kindergarten. 
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