Plagiarism is defined as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.” The key phrase here is “passing them off as one’s own”. I think far too often people mistake the word “plagiarism” as a strictly legal term when in fact something can be plagiarism if you take something from another artist or photograph, don’t alter it very much, and then pretend like you drew something yourself when you clearly didn’t.
While it’s (unfortunately) a common thing for people to trace from other artists’ works, copyrighted photos, rights-free photos, public domain art, and basically any kind of 2D image you can imagine…I think for something to be ethical tracing it should be expected that when you do it, you alter them in some way to make them your own. Maybe you made a nose a little longer or shorter? Maybe you decide to round out the shoulders in a way that makes something a bit more hunched…or maybe even less hunched? Maybe you adjust the arms or hands to your liking?
As a working artist, people PAY YOU to get something original out of you. They don’t pay you to go to Pinterest and perfectly trace an image.
I found out about this example quite awhile ago and I hesitated for a long time on whether or not it was right for the blog. In general, I try to keep most of the art I post on SBT to be derivative works that contain “cut and pastes of other artists” where the plagiarist literally takes a portion of the source art and adds it to their own digital file for use as their own. And I am sympathetic to many designers who use a lot of rights-free images in their works in the way of digital manipulation provided that they do it legally and ethically.
But this one just struck me as insanely lazy because the artist didn’t make it their own. They just took some stock photos and traced them PRECISELY. And then they tried to pass it off as “inspiration” when in fact each detail is so specifically traced that when you line up the images in photoshop, everything lines up perfectly. No artistry was done here other than some basic cross-hatching to make it appear like the artist in question drew them.
Even though there are precedents of professionals using tracing or pose swiping as a method to create their work as a way to meet deadlines, this one goes far beyond acceptable. It’s too close to the source photographs.