Art Theft, Tracing, and Referencing: A Guide

Art Theft, Tracing, and Referencing: A Guide
By: Emi, Nekotenshiemi, Flombone-Emi, etc.etc.etc.

Now, on various Art sites/other sites that I have visited in my years as an internet user, I have noticed that some people don't understand what counts as Art Theft, what counts as referencing, and how to deal with crediting!


I have been a part of various online art communities (mainly as a pixel artist) for almost 10 years now and am amazed at how many people are either overly cautious or have no regard for others' artwork. I am by no means an expert, but I think I know how things work by now. :D

Please feel free to comment, ask things, tell me your opinions on this guide~!

What Constitutes Art Theft?

Art Theft is taking something that you did not create yourself and reposting it/editing it and claiming it as your own.

Some examples of art theft include: Screen shots of an anime, manga scans, things found on google image search, photobucket, or deviantart/sheezyart/other art sites (ESPECIALLY art sites), photos of celebrities, etc.

All of these things belong to the original artist or photographer and are not "free use" just because they are on the internet.

The Gray Area

"but I didn't steal it, I just traced it!!" : Tracing

You have no idea how many times I've heard this.
Yes, tracing IS a good way to learn anatomy or to learn how a certain artist draws things. It is NOT something that you should post online looking for comments on. Are you really proud of yourself for something that you copied from someone else? It's not improvement if you only continue to trace. Even if you admire an artist and want to draw like them, you never will if you only copy their art and don't try on your own. It's like riding a bike. Using training wheels is fine, but someday you're going to wish you could ride without them.


Recoloring is REALLY similar to tracing - It often starts as a trace which is then recolored or edited slightly in order to make it into an OC.

Again, if your OCs are inspired by other characters and you want to do things like this and send them to your friends, fine. :) Just please don't post them online on theO or dA or other art sites. People WILL be able to tell the difference between your addons and the original art. Most of the art is not yours and unless you have permission(explained later), it is still theft.

Using Stock, Bases, etc.

Now you may be like - but I wanted to use a photo of a beach for the background of my picture! What do I do?

There is something amazing called STOCK. Stock art is art that is MADE to be cut up, traced, and made into your art.

There is a stock category on DA, go check it out! Remember, though, all stock artists have different rules for what their art can be used for, so please read their rules before using their stock! I would like here to recommend the awesome Senshi-stock . She has a lot of awesome photos that you are allowed to trace over. :) Please check her out!

Bases have started to become a touchy subject. Bases are naked bodies for you to draw clothes and hair on. The only issue is a lot of people have started TRACING bases, which makes them not such good resources.

I use bases myself in my art, but I try to avoid traced bases because they ARE still art theft. If you want to try using bases, search "Original Base" in Deviantart. I believe there are several groups devoting to finding original bases and avoiding art theft. Again, most base artists have their own rules for usage, so make sure to read them!


Now, some people probably knew all of this already! BUT, besides the overly lax artist, there is also the overly cautious one.

If you find a couple pictures online and use them as REFERENCES in your art, there is NO NEED TO CREDIT!

Referencing is looking at a picture for a pose/detail/fold help/etc. These sort of things can not be copyrighted. As long as you drew the image yourself and did not trace or DIRECTLY copy the image, nothing is wrong!

Do you credit your own hand if you look at it while drawing? Or if you have your little sister put on a long skirt to see how it flows? Nope, and the same goes for anything else you look at.

If you are unsure if you are copying directly or referencing, you CAN credit; there is nothing wrong with that, but it is unnecessary.

Getting Permission

Now, if you DO find something by another artist that you'd like to use, such as an icon, lineart, etc. and you aren't sure if it is stock, then ask!
Send the artist a message or email and tell them what you'd like to do and ask.

Most artists LOVE to hear from fans, and will probably try to find a way to either let you use it, or find something similar.

What if I don't know who the artist is?

If you don't know, don't use it. I know, that may be hard, but you could get sued for copyright infringement if the owner finds you. There are sites such as TinEye that help artists find thieves.

How would you feel if someone was getting popular on another website using your art? Not cool.

How to Credit

If an artist has credit rules, please follow them rather than this!!

The most common way to credit is simply:

Stock by: LINK
Textures by: LINK
Font by: LINK

Where you fill in a LINK to the artist's page. Using a link is important because on the internet, there are often multiple people using the same Aliases, and if someone else also wants to find that stock, they never will without a link! Artists also appreciate links so that they can get more people looking at their work - similar to dedicating a piece of work here on theO!


I feel like I skipped things, but I'll edit this later as I remember things/people ask things! :D

Please comment! <3

((PS. How do I get Fanwords published? There's no checkbox :O))