Inspiration vs. Blatant Copying in Photography

There is no debate that in 2017, professional and amateur photographers are facing challenges that they wouldn’t have considered only a few years ago. Just looking at an average Instagram page can humble any photographer with cases full of expensive gear, as more and more young people post incredible images taken with no more than personal cell phones. This phenomena has increased the potential for stealing and copying other people’s work as never before.

In this case it’s the work of photographer Edward McGowan, whose friend happened to come across a photo of his being used in an advertisement for bladder infection medicine in Germany. The only trouble was, it wasn’t McGowan’s photo but a blatant imitation of his original.



Can you spot the subtle differences between the original and the alleged imitation? If you’re having a hard time, it’s because there are more similarities than there are differences. However, because an original idea can’t be copyrighted, according to current laws, no copyrights are being infringed here.

While we can agree that an original idea can’t be copyrighted, can we take issue in this case? This image is not one of anything naturally-occurring, like a flower or a tree, nor is it a landscape, a building or bridge, etc. This is an image that was likely choreographed and staged to deliver a specific result.

The photographer who allegedly duplicated the photo duplicated it to the extent that the model is wearing the same red shoes of the same brand type, a green shirt of a similar enough tint, and the same type of blue jean shorts. No effort was made with the colors of the model’s clothes in order to achieve a uniquely different image.

A photographer was inspired by McGowan’s image to take a moody photo of a teenager sitting on a curb on a rainy day, understandably suitable for an advertisement on bladder infections, but if nobody sees this as a blatant copy of another photographer’s work, then we have some major problems to overcome in the future.

About the author: Marius Sipa is a travel and photography blogger based in sunny Southern California. You can follow Marius on Facebook here and Instagram @sipaphotography.


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