Reference Material & Copyright

QWASI Copyright Rules and the Use of Reference Material

The Qld Wildlife Artist’s Society has By-Laws that members must adhere to regarding copyright.  Copyright can be a complex and confusing area, and we have included some frequently asked questions and examples to clarify.

Please make sure that the reference material for your subject is correct. For example: that a rainforest bird does not have a desert in the background. Or a coastal species is sitting in or eating flowers or fruits from a tree that only occurs in arid inland areas. Please check distribution maps for the species also and if any recognizable landmarks are in the art work or title that the species would actually occur there. We have many expert scientists, keen birders and wildlife ecologists visiting our exhibitions and they will comment to the organizers if things are wrong as has happened and that does not reflect well on the Artist and the Society. The organizing committee may refuse to display your work at our Exhibitions if it is not correct.

Please check carefully the theme and subject restrictions for each exhibition in the Conditions of entry forms. Some of our exhibitions are Australian Fauna and Flora only for example.

More information on Australian Copyright laws can be accessed from


QUESTION:  Can I use reference photos provided on internet sites such as,, or other similar sites offering free or paid photographic reference material?

ANSWER:  NO.  These sources are not exclusive use and can result in artwork easily recognisable from an open source, as well as two artists having similar artworks that can be easily recognisable as coming from the same source.  (These have happened in the past and resulted in disappointment on behalf of the artists whose work could not be hung in our exhibition.)

QUESTION:  Can I approach a photographer and make arrangements with them to use their photographs exclusively, either for free or for a payment.

ANSWER:  Yes, as long as you have a written agreement that the photos supplied are for your exclusive use only, and they are not published either in print or on the internet.

QUESTION: Can I use open source video and press pause to draw my artwork from?

ANSWER:  NO.  This is in breach of the copyright of the videographer’s material and is also not exclusive use.

QUESTION:  Can I use books?

ANSWER:  Only in relation to clarifying the finer details of an animal/plant structure.  Copying photographs and illustrations from printed materials is a breach of copyright.

COPYRIGHT COMPLIANCE EXAMPLE:  A QWASI member was engaged for a commission, and was sent a photo to paint that she was told was free stock. She contacted the photographer herself. It was not free stock, but she received permission from the photographer to paint it. This highlights the importance of checking all source material thoroughly before investing your time and resources into your artwork.

Whenever possible, we highly recommend each member takes their own reference photos and makes field sketches to familiarize themselves with their subjects, rather than using another person’s reference material. It shows in the art work when an artist knows their subject well.

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