art theft

The line that runs between plagiarism and inspiration is incredibly thin and oftentimes blurred. This topic can range anywhere from a paragraph to a full page and is present in most college syllabi today. Usually the class doctrine states that if a person takes another’s ideas or creations and labels them as their own, they will be dropped from the class and possibly expelled. 

However, while plagiarism can get you kicked out, finding and utilizing inspiration is expected in most classes. While the line between plagiarism and inspiration is a very blurry one, using the guidelines listed below will hopefully help clear up any confusion on the concept. 

Overall message

One of the biggest rules of plagiarism, especially in art, is that in order to use an idea or image that you have not made or come up with, you must change the entire message of the original creator. For example, if you would like to use a certain photo to inspire a drawing, you must make sure that the original motivations or message the photo gave is completely different in your piece. If you had a picture of a fox you wanted to use as a guide for drawing a fox, simply copying it or tracing could be considered stealing (unless the artist is given credit or has given permission). However, if you were to draw your own fox, using the picture loosely as a reference for the animal, it’s perfectly okay. 

Giving credit

If there is any doubt whatsoever that your words or artwork might be taken the wrong way, or seen as too similar to the original, it’s always good to cite the creator. In essays, this only takes a few brief moments to give credit where it is due. Use quotation marks around passages that are not your own, and employ the proper citations required for the paper. In art, this could be as simple as giving the artists name and artwork title in a synopsis after finishing your piece. Either way, citing your original sources is always a good idea, even if they were just used for inspiration. 

Words, words, words 

Using another person’s writing as your own is one of the most common cases of plagiarism for students in college. There are hundreds of programs (such as that teachers can send essays through that scour the internet for any text matches that could be suspiciously similar to your essay. And no, changing every third word does not fool these programs. So, the best way to avoid this is to both cite your sources (within the text and at the end), as well as give a disclaimer in your paragraph as to where you found the information you’re writing about. 

Design styles and elements

Not only are pictures easily recognized if plagiarized, but so are design principles and layouts. In design, using another creator’s layout for a page or web layout can easily be seen as plagiarism. By using timestamps, it’s easy to tell who created which design first. To avoid this, never use more than one element for inspiration in a piece of art, as copying multiple styles can be more easily construed as unfair to the original artist.