I am really bad at still lifes. That is, I never even attempted making one. So I decided to try and make a photo of freshly baked bread. I stumbled across a few amazing shots on the Internet which I want to repeat. If I ever published my photo, would it be considered plagiarism? In the end, all I want to do is to copy with my own tools a photograph I have found online.

If I have tried to replicate another photograph, with the same utensils and composition, could mine be considered plagiarism?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The definition of plagiarism is: "The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own." Ask yourself: Is your idea your own? Are you going to use it for something other than personal use? (ie sell, publish, as part of an assignment), are you going to attribute credit to the original inspiration? Also, why not change it and make the photo your own? If all you do is copy other work, whats the fun in that? \$\endgroup\$
    – NULLZ
    Feb 6, 2013 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Composition, lighting and setting are copyrightable too, it depends on how original is the original photo. see this: DPreview: Similar, but not copied, image found to breach copyright \$\endgroup\$
    – Omne
    Feb 6, 2013 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @D3C4FF the fun is to learn on an example. Of course, I am not going to sell a copy of someone else's work, but if my own photo looks pretty much like the original, how can I prove my copyright? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6, 2013 at 15:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PavloDyban Could you please post a sample of the composition that you want to reproduce? \$\endgroup\$
    – Omne
    Feb 6, 2013 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Although you can get great tips and advises posting that kind of question here I believe that, for a safer answer, it would be best to ask to a lawyer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gama Felix
    Feb 6, 2013 at 18:24

3 Answers 3


There is a long, time-honoured tradition in the art world of learning by copying. In fact, in bygone days one would have trouble walking through an art museum because of all of the easels set up. (These days it isn't allowed, mostly because of tripping hazards, wet paint and liability issues, not because of the copying thing.) But publishing is another matter. Even when the original work has slipped into the public domain (or is under a CC0 license), it would be considered bad form to pass the copy off as an original. Tradition holds that faithful copies be published with a title something like "Study after [original artist]", even though in such cases you actually may hold all rights in your copy.

It gets more complicated with works under current copyright. If you have created a faithful copy, you may not hold usable rights in the image (or other work). That would depend on obtaining the right (license) to create a derivative of the work you are copying. It's really, really hard to claim accidental similarity if you've used the same subject, the same lighting, the same major composition and the same props and utensils in the same positions. It's no different, really, than creating a drawing of a photograph — it's still a derivative work, even if you've used a different medium to create the derivative. If you're proud enough of what you've done to consider publishing, then you'll probably need to get permission from the original photographer. And don't be surprised if any grant of license prohibits commercial use.

The object of the game, though, shouldn't be to copy for the sake of copying, but copying to understand. Why does that arrangement of elements look attractive? What is it about the lighting, the point of view, the field of view, etc., that makes the elements of the picture look that way? How can I apply that to my own work? When you've taken in the lessons learned and applied them to your own original work, then you've got something you can take real pride in. More than that, you've demonstrated to yourself (and can demonstrate to others, including potential clients) that you understand lighting, composition and camera settings well enough to create similar (not identical) images on demand. And that's what the lessons of copying are meant to provide.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to be devil's advocate, where does this end? If I take a picture of Halfdome from roughly the same angle as Ansel Adams, I don't think anyone would have a problem as long as I'm clear I took the picture. What if I find the exact spot? What if I look for similar weather conditions? Same time of day? Sun/moon in same position? How don't I have a right to do all that as long as I'm not passing off the result as someone else's? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7, 2013 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess that would be hard to prove or disprove similarity in case of a landscape photo (there are simply too many variable factors), but for a still-life, I imagine, this is a serious issue. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2013 at 7:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find the term 'accidental similarity' interesting. What about the millions of extremely similar photos taken of the Eiffel tower or any other popular object each year? If similarity is the measure stick, does it always apply, or only apply on photos that are more 'unique'? And if so, how do you define unique? \$\endgroup\$
    – Fer
    Feb 12, 2013 at 21:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ With landscapes and architecture, it's very difficult to take a picture from approximately the same place and not wind up with approximately the same picture. Similarity, in that case, would be an accident of the process. (Accident doesn't merely mean "oops".) In a constructed composition, on the other hand, where the photographer deliberately places and lights every element of the image, accidental similarity (two or more photographers independently coming up with the same composition based entirely upon their understanding of the process and rules of composition) is, um, rare. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Feb 12, 2013 at 21:30

It's not plagiarism if you give proper credit. If you see a still life, reconstruct and photograph it yourself, and then hand the resulting photo in to your photography instructor as your own work, or publish it in a book without properly attributing the original, that's plagiarism. If you're up front about the fact that you reproduced someone else's composition and cite the source, that's not plagiarism.

You might or might not still be violating the original photographer's copyright on the composition, but that's not what you asked about.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So in my case the answer would be yes: that's plagiarism. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2013 at 19:02

Yes, it could be considered plagiarism, and a breach of copyrights.

See this similar case.

I'm not an expert on copyright matter, but AFAIK, whenever you get an idea, you have copyright for that idea. That doesn't mean that others can not come up with the same idea. So in the aforementioned case, the ruling part judged that the image was so similar, that it wasn't just another photographer having the same idea, but was in fact a copy of the original idea.

The same principle is apparent in music. You cannot reproduce someone else's song without permission.

This sort of copyright is referred to as "intellectual copyright" if I'm not mistaken. This should not be confused with "mechanical copyright", which is the copyright of the actual production of the idea, I.e. an image in print or a music CD.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not lawyer, but I really don't see how this is copyright infringement. The original picture would be the copyrighted work. I don't think you can copyright a arrangement of fruit. A new work was made with similar content, but the copyrighted work was not copied. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7, 2013 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is really a very similar case to mine. Someone copied another image in order to avoid paying royalties to the original author. And it was proven he had done a copyright infringement based on the composition, color, lighting and motive. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2013 at 7:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - I expanded a bit about why it is so, at least to my knowledge \$\endgroup\$
    – Pete
    Feb 8, 2013 at 7:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pete No, an idea is not copyrightable. Could you please change that? But the other part of that paragraph is correct, an image should not be too similar (if the original image is sufficiently creative). \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Mar 5, 2013 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ The case cited is used so often precisely because it is such an exception to the way most similar cases are decided. Outside of the UK, there is no existing case law that corresponds to this one with regard to protecting an idea, rather than protecting a specific artistic interpretation of an idea. Even within the UK, the decision by the court was controversial and other barristers weighed in that it was not correct. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Sep 19, 2018 at 18:25

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