Copyright is such an important subject, with so many people downloading drawings from Pinterest and Google, that I felt the need to share it here, with permission.
I originally posted this on Aug. 18th 2016. On Febr. 4th 2020 I’ve made some adjustments, mainly for better readability.
There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst colorists about copyright and how it applies to coloring books and pages.
Most people who break copyright law have good intentions. So I am writing this to clarify some issues about copyright of coloring images that I’ve seen come up multiple times, both with colorists and artists.
Copyright allows you to color images you purchased for personal use
- post your finished/colored work online (i.e. in Facebook groups) to share with others
- give away your colored original piece to anyone you wish
You MAY NOT:
- distribute copyrighted work, even if you paid for it
- post blank uncolored pages online
- give copies/scan uncolored pages to someone else – even if it’s a freebie posted by the artist
If you want to share a free page, share a link to where the artist posted it so others can visit their site and get it themselves.
Common questions and misunderstandings
Here are 7 things you need to know about copyright and coloring books/sheets:
1. “If I don’t make money by giving away the blank coloring sheet or an electronic file, I am not in violation of copyright.”
Wrong! Remember Napster? There was sharing, no money being exchanged, and they credited the artist. It was still illegal.
You didn’t create the coloring sheet, so if you distribute original work that is not yours, you are breaking the law – even if you credit the artist.
2. “I am a big fan of this artist. Won’t giving away their coloring sheets give them more sales?”
This is like showing up at someone’s office, taking their paycheck and giving it away to other people, because you love their work. If you give away a copyrighted image, the people who use it won’t be running out to buy the coloring sheet(s) they just got for free.
If you are a fan and want to publicize an artist’s work, the best thing you can do to support this artist is to share your colored work with the artist’s name and where you got the original from (such as the name of the artist’s book or their website).
Usually colorists want to know where a colored page is from and what media was used to color it. You might as well answer those questions in advance when you post the colored image.
3. “I bought and paid for the coloring book/image so it’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it.”
Copyright prohibits any distribution or reproduction of the original work. When you buy a movie or a CD it doesn’t give you the rights to burn copies and give them away or post it online for others to download. The same rule applies to coloring sheets/pages and books.
4. “Is sharing scans or copies of blank coloring sheets with a friend considered personal use?”
Personal use means for your own use. If you want to give away a copy to a friend, you need to give them your original physical page that you bought. Or you’ll have to buy another book to give away. As with any physical object, you need to purchase it every time you give it as a gift.
So yes, you may cut out an original uncolored (or colored) page out of a physical book you purchased and give it away. You can however NOT copy it or scan it to distribute. You also should not share an electronic file you purchased (i.e. PDF file/eBook).
If you want to share a file with a friend or give it as a gift, you need to purchase another electronic copy. Or simply ask your friend to purchase their own copy.
5. “I found this image on Pinterest or Google search, and can’t give an attribution, because it didn’t have one. It’s the artist’s fault, because they should have put their name on it.”
Most of the “free” coloring sheets posted online and on Pinterest are unfortunately stolen from artists. Coming across a bike without someone’s name on it doesn’t mean that it’s yours.
As with any other item, just because it isn’t labelled doesn’t mean it belongs to you. We are adults and are well aware that the Internet is not a game of “finders keepers”.
You can trust images posted by the artist as a free download or sold from their Facebook page or website. You probably have not noticed that all images in Google search results have a warning: “Images may be subject to copyright” – so the argument that they’re free of copyright because you found them on Google or Pinterest is invalid.
Using the words “Credit to the artist” when you post copyrighted work does not mean you’re not breaking copyright law.
Artists today need to post their work online to promote it – that does not mean it’s OK to steal it. You don’t steal store displays – the same applies to an artist’s online presence.
6. “I have cancer/some illness/am disabled, can I just color this sheet without paying for it? It’s not hurting anyone.”
When someone is ill, it doesn’t mean they can just grab items from the grocery store shelves and not pay for them. Copyright laws apply to everyone regardless of their health condition. Check with your hospital or doctors.
Many artists generously donate coloring pages/books to cancer centers and other medical offices to be used by people undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis and many other medical procedures.
Many times people who know someone with an illness want to help and don’t know how. Let your friends and family know that you would love to have a particular coloring book. Ask for them on your birthday or for holiday gifts. Coloring books are a gift that gives hours of enjoyment for a low price.
Check the artist’s site for legal samples. Almost all artists legally offer free samples posted on their sites or Facebook pages.
Join ethical coloring groups and enter some of the many giveaways. Most of all, ask yourself, “Will it truly improve my health and recovery to color stolen artwork?”
7. Violating copyright is a crime with victims!
The cliché about starving artists rings true, because art is generally not the most profitable profession out there. Coloring book authors are real people struggling to pay bills and feed their families.
Many are single parents, have disabilities that keep them from being able to work outside the home, or have health issues that keep them from being able to work in a regular office environment.
More things to consider
Some artists work full time and stay up late after they get off work, and their children are in bed, and lose sleep to work on their material – hoping for a little side income to help make ends meet. Art may look easy, but there is a lot of work and expense that goes into it.
Expenses include pens, papers, markers, pencils, erasers, scanners, computers, cameras, printers, and software.
It takes a lot of time and effort
Add to that the time that it takes to research one’s subject, draw a coloring sheet, clean it up, get it ready to publish (and to learn how to publish in the first place), and either get it formatted for a book or on an online store, publish or post for sale, plus the extensive time that goes into marketing one’s work, and in the event money is made – bookkeeping time and expenses.
This doesn’t even include the time it takes to learn to draw the art itself, through hours of grit and hard work, or the bills related to art classes and college courses. People tend to think artists are born with this innate talent, but no one seems to notice the countless hours they spend honing their skill.
As any artist who ever figured out how to draw lips, hair/fur, eyes, hands, or a landscape that looks 3-dimensional instead of flat can attest, there is real struggle and work involved in learning to make art.
“Now I feel like I can’t post anything online in fear of breaking the law.”
It’s fine to post your coloring work in progress or finished coloring sheet. Just cite your sources for each picture posted. Coloring should be fun and relaxing.
Drinking is legal; drunk driving is not. Police are not killjoys for arresting people driving while intoxicated. Neither are artist’s killjoys for protecting their copyrighted work and source of income.
There’s no need to steal
You can buy coloring books (they truly are everywhere now – bookstores, supermarkets, dollar store, you name it), or download coloring sheets from the artist’s online store. If you’re on a tight budget, look at the artist’s page for free samples. Or ask your friends and family for coloring books as gifts.
Don’t download from Google or from any sketchy web sites full of free coloring pages. Particularly foreign ones, because you may end up with viruses and spyware in addition to stolen images. And don’t download from Pinterest.
Those easy rules of thumb will keep coloring fun and stress-free, like it’s supposed to be.
Nerine’s personal experience
I am addressing copyright, because I have seen several coloring book artists leave the field. Or they’ve become discouraged, because of art theft. If you believe artists are killjoys for talking about copyright, then I imagine that if someone steals your wallet you would not call the police so you don’t ruin that person’s fun.
Artists enjoy sending take down notices about as much as you’d enjoy filling out a police report after someone stole your property. I’ve seen several artist friends find out their work has been stolen and have seen their reaction: shock, grief, frustration, anger, helplessness. Many hours are used up dealing with the incident and some are not able to draw for days or weeks after.
I know those feelings well, because that’s exactly how I felt after my home was broken into and after my purse was stolen. It grieves me to see my friends feel that way.
Why have fun at someone else’s expense? Let’s keep it legal! Otherwise we may all end up coloring stick figures – and where’s the fun in that?
Keep coloring enjoyable for yourself (guilt free!) and for the artists so we can work together to do what we love: color and relax!
Final note from me
Nerine Martin has drawn a lot of lovely coloring books, available on Bookdepository.com. Nerine made the coloring page that I’ve used, and colored, for this article.
Let’s respect copyright and have fun coloring!