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How a Martian Goddess Changed My Mind About Copyright

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Creative Commons Habits Are Hard to Break

Creative Commons Licences are Good Things, in my estimation. I’ve had one on my personal art blog The Flying Trilobite since almost the very beginning.

There are different grades of Creative Commons Licences (CCL), and like many artists, I’ve stuck with the most restrictive one. Without giving you the whole list of various Licences and their attributes, I can sum up by saying that all of them require attribution to the original artist. It’s a small point, but an important one. It asks for civility and credit where credit it due. Without creative people making new imagery online, the internet would be a dull place.

The Creative Commons description of the one I have displayed on The Flying Trilobite says:

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Like many artists starting out it makes sense: if you work hard making something new, you don’t want someone else, maybe more established swooping in, making a new version of it, and then turning around and licensing or selling it for massive profit. That would burn, and you’d fall deeper into the bitter-artist-whom-no-one-understands even further than you already have.

I have been a big fan of Cory Doctorow and the idea of more open sharing for a long time, and railed against some scientific illustrators for being afraid to put their work online (it ends up there anyway I argue: but an established presence helps protect your work). Even so, I have stuck with this protective, locked-up licence.

Until I saw a goddess from Mars.

Or, I should say; another goddess from Mars.

Mother Mars

Years ago I painted Mother Mars. It was a tough work, and I almost gave up on it numerous times when it was half-complete. One weekend I was determined to destroy it.

© Glendon Mellow

© Glendon Mellow

© Glendon Mellow

Mother Mars © Glendon Mellow, oil on canvas.

The idea behind Mother Mars was the embodiment of a Mother Nature figure on an (almost?) dead planet. Her face was my rendition of the infamous Cydonian hill-face photo from the 70′s. I struggled for over a year to develop the “egg” next to her, playing around with images of mermaid’s purses (shark eggs). Then news of meteorite ALH84001 and possible micro fossils struck, and I finished the painting. I included a string of magnetite in the bleeding egg-form, and inscribed one of the nearby rocks with “ALH84001″.

Like the rest of my artwork, I slapped the “No-Commercial, No-Derivative-Work, Attribution” Licence on the painting’s post when I blogged it, and when I put it on DeviantArt.

The Pygmalion Moment

If you’re not familiar with DeviantArt, it’s a social network built around easily sharing art. It’s a lot like a combination of blogging, Facebook and filled with manga, furries, nude photography and comic book fan art.

From the Wikipedia article about DeviantArt:

As of August 2010, the site consists of over 14.5 million members, and over 100 million submissions, and receives around 140,000 submissions per day. In addition, deviantArt users submit over 1.4 million “favorites” and 1.5 million comments daily.

My traffic there has what I somewhat high numbers, though not massive by DeviantArt standards.

Then enter Fokkusu1991, a.k.a. Samantha Moreland:


© Samantha Moreland aka fokkusu1991

© Samantha Moreland aka fokkusu1991

I Will Die In My House On Mars, © Samantha Moreland aka fokkusu1991. (Note the awesome fossil next to the statue!)

This was the Pygmalion moment.

Moreland had re-created my painting, and it looked wonderful!  Maybe it’s the contemporary fine artist in me (not being too precious about the work) or maybe it’s the illustrator in me (loving reproductions of my work) but this was amazing. I was impressed and flattered.

And it had me re-thinking that whole “no-derivatives” section of the Creative Commons Licence I have been using for so long.

Samantha Moreland named the sculpture “I Will Die In My House On Mars” from a line in a song by Arjen Lucassen, called “My House On Mars”. It’s a perfect post-internet age mash-up art, still with undeniable stamp of Moreland’s craftsmanship.

I think the big fear for a new artist starting out is that by having fully open copyright or Creative Commons, is that a larger-name artist or corporate entity than yourself will swoop in, make a derivative of your work and use their bigger platform to earn gobs of money and fame-points.

Am I more open to derivatives because, after 6 years of blogging and a decent-sized fan base, I’m comfortable I won’t get screwed over?

In a few more years,if I reach the level of success a Star Wars and a Marvel Comics have, will I worry less about fans selling fanart t-shirts for a buck based on my work?

I think it’s all of it. Getting over the fear, and seeing my work inspire another creator. Thanks Sam, for the best response to my artwork I can think of: making more art that made me think.

Where do you stand as an artist or consumer on artist copyrights? Let me know in the comments below!

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Curiosity © Samantha Moreland

Don’t miss her manga-inspired Martian creations

Samantha Moreland’s art on DeviantArt



Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite and is on Instagram. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. 1:25 pm 03/22/2013

    I never understood the motivation behind the No-Derivatives license component. If you’re being credited and nobody’s making money off it, who cares? That’s why I don’t even include it as an option on

    (It’s only begrudgingly that I include the Noncommercial option. It can have unintended effects, such as preventing use in scientific publications. But some artists would refuse to submit their work otherwise, and I see their point of view.)

    Link to this
  2. 2. Saffy 5:14 am 03/23/2013

    I tend to use a mix of licenses on my work but all of them are fine to share with attribution. I have a few things that I put out there in the hope that they would be taken and new things made with them. Some of the things I do not want altered as they have specific messages which I don’t want changed.

    The moment I have been most proud of was finding that people had taken my art used it as their profile pictures and avatars. People liked my art enough to steal it (there was no attribution). And it was that they liked it and one of them later asked if they could buy some of my creations as a wallpaper for their computer. I sent them the file free of charge.

    People think I am stupid but I have had far more success with putting my stuff on the net for free than putting it in galleries. My stuff is not mainstream so it needs to be spread far and wide for people who will like it to know it even exists.

    I love the Mother Mars Picture Glendon.

    Sarah Snell-Pym

    Link to this
  3. 3. Adam_Smith 6:58 pm 03/23/2013

    It’s all a matter of attitude isn’t it? Glendon Mellow is coming around to an attitude about derivatives that commenter keesay says he had all along. I am not a professional nor amateur artist but if I were I could imagine myself thinking that if some people were able to profit more from a creation of mine than I could myself then it would be petty and selfish of me to stand in their way. I would actually feel more hurt by a lack of attribution.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Glendon Mellow 11:29 am 03/24/2013

    Keesey, I think the idea that someone with more clout and fan-following than an individual artist making a derivative work and it being more successful (pageviews, talked about etc) can still rankle the more obscure artist. That’s why it’s an unattractive option, even if no money is being made.

    Saffy, that’s an interesting case: your art used as avatars. Typically there’s no room for attribution on tiny avatar pictures. But I agree, it’s neat to be asked (only happened to me once, I think.)

    Link to this
  5. 5. Glendon Mellow 11:31 am 03/24/2013

    Adam, lack of attribution is in my opinion, one of the worst things that routinely happens online. As my co-blogger Katie said, If Only Images Were Shared Like Videos:

    At the same time do you really think it’s petty and selfish to be upset when someone makes more money than the person they’re deriving from? What is it’s a lone, innovative artist, just up and coming and a big advertising firm or corporation just sails in and makes a derivative work, and scads of money from the resulting sales? Would that bother you?

    Link to this
  6. 6. karl 11:56 pm 03/27/2013

    I think most of this comes from having only one standard (money) to tailor success, if the “name” and “money” were separate and you could get to live only with name, there would be less pressure to prevent your work to be used or derived by someone else, (after all, that will get your name up)
    on the other hand leachers would find a way to cling on the name and money of someone else.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Glendon Mellow 1:05 am 03/29/2013

    Here’s a chilling example of what most artists fear: big name publisher swipes entire concepts (even the author’s bio) and changes the name of a webcomic by 1 letter, markets it. With all the clout a publishing company has over the independent.

    Link to this
  8. 8. kausikdatta 3:30 pm 05/7/2014

    My two cents FWIW. Glendon has been the most gracious. However, this conspicuous lack of proper attribution in the derivative artwork by Samantha baffles me. If an artist does a derivative work under CC licenses, acknowledging the source, the creator of the original art, doesn’t diminish the value of either the original or the derivative. So what was the point of appropriating Glendon’s original and beautiful idea with attribution?

    Glendon pointed out to me on twitter that all that CC requires is an attribution to the original, and Samantha did attribute Glendon in her DeviantArt gallery webpage. Also, she apparently alerted Glendon to her project herself via DeviantArt messaging.

    Well, good for her. But that doesn’t alter the fact that Glendon started off by trying to protect his original creation by a CC-BY-NC-ND license, and until he himself made a change to that license, the whole of it – including the ND No derivative part – remained valid. Samantha could have at least asked for Glendon’s permission to reproduce his idea in a different medium before embarking upon the project, couldn’t she?

    Don’t get me wrong. Samantha’s work, though derivative in nature, is still beautiful. But it would forever be associated with her name in the public mind. That’s why the one-liner acknowledgement in the gallery webpage doesn’t really cut it; Glendon is going to be robbed of the source credit.

    To my mind, copyright should protect an original idea, work, creation, or effort. Isn’t this partly why, in scientific treatises, we strenuously try to acknowledge the original work by authors by adding references?

    It is a testament to Glendon’s goodness of heart that he is happy to see an aesthetically pleasing derivative of his work. But that’s no excuse to disrespect his creativity by ignoring the ND part of his original intended license.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Glendon Mellow 3:40 pm 05/7/2014

    Kausik, I do agree with you. And if it had been a derivative made by say, a young earth creationist I could certainly feel less gracious.

    One way around this that you sometimes see in the arts, is to title the work like this example: The Angel (After Rembrandt) by Van Gogh.

    Link to this
  10. 10. kausikdatta 3:56 pm 05/7/2014

    A wholly respectable and attributive solution, much better than simple appropriation, no? Thank you for this information.

    Link to this

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