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I have created two images of a horse and an elephant from scratch based on Shutterstock images. I have changed some colors and added some more details but at the bottom line it looks very much the same.

I want to use those images in my website, can I do it without risking being sued for copyrights violations?

  • I placed the original image in front of me and made a version of it in Photoshop. The finished version that I created has different colors and some more details. – Gra-Lisa Sep 20 '15 at 6:08
  • My version of the image was created from scratch meaning that I have made all the layers myself. – Gra-Lisa Sep 20 '15 at 6:15
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Check your license from shutterstock what you are allowed to do with these images. They allow you, for appropriate payment, to publish their original images on your website. There is no reason why you couldn't ask them for a license to create an image derived from their original and publish it on your website.

Anyway, according to your description, you created a derived work of the shutterstock images. Which is copyright infringement unless your license from shutterstock allows this. You have of course copyright on your modifications, but shutterstock also has a copyright on your work, because it is derived from theirs. If you have no license to create a derived work, then publishing it makes the situation worse.

To answer your question: Legally, by getting an appropriate license. Illegally, by creating a work with so little similarity that you are not suspected.

  • This is a good answer, but I would simply nitpick that "You have of course copyright on your modifications" may or may not be true. Anderson v. Stallone found that unauthorized derivative works are ineligible for copyright protection. How a case about an unauthorized movie script relates to derivative image composition is not perfectly clear to me, but the case seems pretty relevant: "Anderson attempted to argue that... Congress intended non-infringing portions of derivative works to be protected. The Court disagreed..." – apsillers Sep 20 '15 at 21:39
  • The relevant passage from the Anderson v. Stallone judgment: "[The House Report on 103(a)] makes a general statement that non-infringing portions of a work should be granted protection if these portions do not employ the pre-existing work... The general statement... is best understood as applying only to compilations. Although it is not crystal clear, it appears that the Committee assumed that in a derivative work the underlying work is "employed" throughout." Thus, the fundamental open question for me is whether the stock composition satisfies 17 USC 101's definition of a "compilation". – apsillers Sep 20 '15 at 22:00

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