Who owns a work of art? Believe it or not, artists' images are protected by Copyright law. That means that if you come up with an idea (including artwork), your ownership of that idea is protected under our government, and that people have to get your permission to use that idea -- as long as you go through the process to get it copyrighted.
However, some use is allowed under Fair Use law, which allows for a certain amount of "borrowing" of ideas for the sake of artistic reference. This means you can sometimes use part of an image in your artwork, but not copy a copyrighted image directly into your art. It's tricky, though... the laws are getting tougher and tougher, and companies are suing artists for using their logos in their art without permission.
In other words, straight-up copying of another person's work is copyright infringement, and sometimes even referring to another artist's work, corporate logo, or mascot can get you into hot water, as well. It can also get you into trouble in my class, because I can not accept artwork that is not original. (Please see me if you want to reference copyrighted work for your own artwork -- there are ways to get permission from copyright-holders to legally use those items.)
This short video will attempt to make some (fun) sense out of Copyright and Fair Use law:
Also, here are some links that will help you get started with your first project, in which you will study Copyright law, Trademark, and Fair Use practices:
The US Copyright Office -- here, you'll find the basics about Copyright Law.
The Free Expression Policy Project -- there is a lot of info here about Fair Use, especially as it pertains to art.
Are Bullies After Our Culture -- a very interesting and thought-provoking article about the pros and cons of copyright law, and how it affects our freedom of expression in the United States. (Wired Magazine)
The FAQ About Protest, Parody, and Criticism Sites -- this site has a great basic FAQ about Copyright, Trademark, and Fair Use policy, and about what does and does not constitute a violation of these laws.
Put the Brakes on Trademark Infringement -- An article about the good and bad side of trademark protection.
You will be required to write a research paper and present it to the class about Fair Use. Please see me to discuss topic ideas. Good luck!
Special thanks to art teacher guru Judy Decker at the Incredible Art Department for all the information on Copyright and Fair Use.