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APPart – Copyright Issues Within Mobile Art And Apps – By Mel Harrison

It’s Saturday already and that means it’s time for Mel Harrison’s latest APPart article and this week Mel highlights a very important and potentially controversial issue regarding copyrighted material and the usage of it within your own artwork. Mel’s main frustration is with an app that she did not want to name but having written to them myself, several times and having received no reply I felt that perhaps we should, the app that Mel is referring to in this article is Paint FX and it is one of her favorites and one that she has used for a lot of her artwork to date. I’ll let Mel take it from here, over to you Mel (foreword by Joanne Carter).



“One of my favorite apps, recently included a web search mode within the app, this concerned me greatly because I felt it encouraged people to use possibly copyrighted material in their art work. My main concern with it is that from within the app artists have no reference to the original content, it can’t be credited if needed, nor can copyright status be checked. There was not even a pop up warning that images from that section could be subject to copyright restrictions. I was even able to create a ‘fake’ of one of my own images inside the app. I found this all very concerning.

I would have boycotted this app out of principle but unfortunately there is not another app available that does what it does, and it is an app I use on all my images. The developer is aware of my concerns and will hopefully address the issues in the next update.


© Mel Harrison – The Admiral


My vision is to see artists who use iOS (or Android for that matter) app based tools being not only accepted by the mainstream art world, but to have our images acknowledged as a Bonafide art form, not a novelty or a gimmick. We need to move beyond the perception that all iOS art is created by taking a photo and pressing a button for a filter. To achieve this iOS art needs to be innovative, creative and treated respectfully by the artist.

Please keep that in mind when accessing web content to include in your work. There are several places that you can access copyright free or pay for a license to use content.



I generally avoid using web content but in my latest image ‘The Admiral’ I had a specific look I wanted to achieve. To do this I needed a map to blend into the background. I actually used the app I mentioned above to blend the map into the image but I did not use their web content option to find it. I left the app, went to Flickr Creative Commons and looked specifically for an image with no known copyright restrictions…this is not something you can do within the app itself. I am not an expert on copyright law by any means but I do know even ‘no known copyright’ does not cover all eventualities which is why I do prefer not to use web content in general.

So please before you use any web content in your images, do a little bit of research. Give your art and the iOS art community the respect it deserves”.

Mel Harrison is an Australian digital artist, iPhone photographer and writer. Her work has been shown in exhibitions around the world including the LA-MAF. She has been honoured with Artist of the Day and Artist of the Month at Mel is active in the IPhoneography community and is part of our sister site staff team at You can follow Mel's work at and her work is a available to purchase via As a Columnist for, Mel will focus on digital art and collage images. Her column will be called APPart and she will be incorporating a different 'mainstream' editing app each week and will hopefully inspire you to try your hand at some APPart of your own.


  • JL

    I agree. I have a huge issue with this. Another app, Auryncam, allows users to upload photos from the internet to use in making “art”. I brought my concerns to the developer’s attention but he told me there is no plan to change this because it was what users told him they wanted in beta testing. I maintain my account so I can see if any of my photos are being used improperly but I refuse to use the program myself. Developers need to be more aware of this concern. They’re making it far too easy for people to create art with others’ copyrighted work and claim it as their own.

  • Spiro Bolos

    I think we have to be very careful on what both creators and users deem to be both copyrighted and copyright-free images and how those images are used. Like the author, I am no lawyer, but I do know that “many decisions about copyright are educated guesses, not facts. Case law does not keep up and is sometimes contradictory. But educated is the operative word in the first sentence.”

    This is true even outside the scope of educational institutions (as I’ve cited above). The litmus test over fair use of copyrighted materials tends to be how transformative the use is. Did it add value to the original work, for example? If so, the use might be deemed “fair” in a court of law.

    Lastly, Creative Commons (CC) is a wonderful resource, but it is not exactly “copyright-free” as some have argued. Depending on the specific CC license, an image may be designated “some rights reserved”. The original map image utilized by the author (above) is most likely in the public domain, (which is yet another designation) due to its age.

  • Mike Hardaker (

    A really important factor (massively more so now, with the Internet’s global reach) is that copyright laws vary from country to country.

    To take just one point, the concept of “fair use” is a key part of copyright law in the US, but is almost unknown in the rest of the world. And all the places where the work is published count, not where you happen to be.

    So, for example, if you’re in the US an you use somebody else’s work in a way that would be considered “fair” in the US, you need to be aware that it may not be considered so in (say) France. And if the work is “published” in France (which may be a simple as a France-based iPhone owner being able to view it—seriously) then French law comes into play.

    It was sometimes easy enough to play the international margins of IP law when dealing with physical objects*. However, in this virtual world you often end up finding you have to understand and satisfy all jurisdictions, not just the one of your physical location (or that you have cherry-picked).

    Unfortunately, the majority of English-language writing on copyright comes is focused on US copyright law; it’s easy to assume that it expresses universal concepts, but it rally doesn’t—the limited monopoly that is copyright is managed very, very differently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

    * e.g. Italian law didn’t recognize certain rights involving live performances that took place in Italy, so there was a plethora of “legal bootleg” albums, published in Italy, that were all called “Live in Rome”, even when you could hear the performers yelling “Hello, Seattle!” or “It’s great to be in London!”…

    • Mike Hardaker (

      (Sorry for typos. Incoherent final papa should be:

      Unfortunately, the majority of English-language writing on copyright is focused on US copyright law; it’s easy to assume that it expresses universal concepts, but it really doesn’t—the “limited monopoly” that is copyright is managed very, very differently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.