Is Copyright stifling creativity?

Ironically, the copyright obstacles forced me to get more creative and write my own quotes, but I still believe that copyright should be more of a bridge than an insurmountable obstacle.

Image found HERE
Image found HERE

As a writer, I am both aware of copyright and appreciative of the legal rights it stamps on intellectual property, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that, as an active reader and writer, I am heavily influenced and inspired by other poets, authors and artists – sometimes to the extent that their work sparks an idea for my own creation and I am compelled to link back to that author/artist/creative as a way of thanking them and honouring their work. Unfortunately, 21st Century copyright laws prohibit this creative symbiosis, and it begs the question: Is copyright stifling creativity?


When Eliot famously said that “mature poets steal”, he wasn’t referring to copyright infringements, he was merely acknowledging that we, as writers/creatives/artists, are constantly influenced and inspired by things we read, see, hear, watch, etc. He was also questioning the originality of originality, for who can honestly say that they are influenced by nothing and no-one? When poets like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were writing, referencing their creative influences and inspirations was par for the course – in fact, it created a creative community of creative symbiosis that enriched their writing as a result. Unfortunately, current copyright and intellectual property laws turns what could be a creative bridge into an insurmountable obstacle.

Before I published my poetry book I encountered 2 major copyright issues:


Gustav Klimt [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gustav Klimt [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I envisioned using Klimt’s Death and Life Painting for the cover of my book, as he is a major influence in all of my work, and this particular painting inspired the title of my book. Alas, I never did get a reply to my permission request from the Gallery who holds the painting and, even though it is in the public domain, I dare not step into a murky copyright puddle. Once I realised that Klimt was out of the picture, I turned to DeviantArt and approached 2 artists whose pictures were ideal as a book cover. Both declined and I was back to the drawing board. In the end, I got lucky when a friend offered to design the book cover, but if he hadn’t offered help I’m not sure what my next move would have been – professional services most likely…



Again, before publishing, I researched and selected dozens of quotes, from novels and authors, that I wanted to use as introductions for each of the 19 sections, and several other quotes that had sparked entire poems. However, when I researched permissions and copyright I realised that I would have to scrap each and every one of those quotes and write my own. I sent four permission requests in total, three of those to Harper Collins, as an exercise and experiment, and 8 weeks on, I have either not had any reply or been informed to contact a different arm of the organisation. Now that the book is finished, I am proud of the fact that I was forced to write my own quotes, but I was also disappointed that I had to erase all traces of my creative influences due to copyright restrictions. Which begs the question…


Image found HERE
Image found HERE

If I had travelled the traditional publishing route, the copyright obstacles might have been easily surmountable, after all permission requests are directed via the publisher and not the author. My understanding is that these copyright issues and the exercise of gaining permission seems to be financial, related to agents and publishers cuts, rather than protecting the Author’s intellectual property.



I must admit that, as an independent author on this particular project, I felt rather isolated in this department, because, although there is a lot of copyright information on the web, it is still rather vague, and without someone who know’s the ins and outs of copyright it is a daunting little adventure. I probably found it more difficult than most because I don’t belong to any writers groups, but I am interested to hear your thoughts on this issue of copyright.

Ironically, the copyright obstacles forced me to get more creative and write my own quotes, but I still believe that copyright should be more of a bridge than an insurmountable obstacle.

What are your experiences and/or thoughts on copyright and creativity? 

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Bianca Bowers

Bianca Bowers is a South African-born, Australian-based, poet and writer who has also lived in New Zealand and Britain.

She is the author of PASSAGE and DEATH AND LIFE, and has a BA in English and Film/TV/Media Studies.

Her poetry has appeared in Shot Glass Journal, Tongue In Your Ear (Volume 4), the Art Toppling Tobacco Project, and she is currently working on her debut novel, The Colour Fence.

She offers a free short story, THE HUNCH, to subscribers. To get your free copy, subscribe via
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26 thoughts on “Is Copyright stifling creativity?

  1. Well on the one side, your right about the difficulty and it is about money for the original creators. Imagine how many requests and uses have to be handled, most people just ignore requests because the task can be daunting for them as well. On the other side, imagine if your book takes off and every one wants to quote you , (free) and you have to handle all that over decades.
    Copyrights are a very good thing to protect the artists, most of whom wish to create new work and not do business of handling old work. That changes if a piece of your work becomes so popular it can be licensed to be produced in various other ways. (a quote on a T’ shirt or coffee cup for a royalty) and the real value of copyright is expressed. as to literature the idea behind copy or quotes is to cause new and more creative word-smithing and less “leaning on” the work of others. The protection of intellectual property is the prime reason for copyrights, the difficulty for you is in how others use that to profit from you or keep you from profiting from their work. I think when the first time someone steals your work and you discover it, you will agree with the copyright side of this, especially if they use your words in a less than complimentary addition to their own purpose.
    I have had most if these things happen, and appreciate the copyright laws for their protection.
    Unchecked the world will strip you of everything you produce and put their name on it.

    Hope this helps a little

    1. Hi John, I’m not disputing the value of, or need for, copyright. I’m speaking to the fact that we, as creatives, are heavily influenced by other creatives & we pay our respect to their influence/inspiration by quoting their work & giving them credit. However, copyright prohibits you from doing that. Like I said, the copyright obstacle forced me to get more creative & I know for next time to keep out any references to my influences – which is sad from a creative perspective, but obviously a necessary safeguard in the 21st Century.

      I will say this, there will always be people who steal (regardless of the laws in place) – and that goes for anything in life.

      Thanks for your comments & insight. It’s much appreciated.


      1. Yes I see what you are getting at, and you are so right, it does make the work of others less useful and as time goes it will get more so. I find the same is true with images and art work. Often I must research my own ideas to make sure I was not overly influenced by something I might have seen, and don’t realize it was not my own original idea.
        Nice posting you did, thanks for the response as well

  2. What you say is correct. However, the fact also is, that when someone produces a work of creativity, then he/she would like to be compensated for his/her efforts.
    I did give a friend of mine some of my photographs for her web-site, but I would feel sad if people were to copy my work, without any compensation.
    I am writing a fantasy book that I shall probably publish on Kindle, and shall do a photo-book. I shall probably ask my sister to create the cover for me

    1. Hi Rajiv & thanks for your input. Like I said, I’m not disputing the value/need for copyright – it’s essential in this day and age & without copyright we would be taken advantage of (undoubtedly).
      In my case, I wasn’t wanting to use things for free. I went via the necessary channels and got stonewalled.
      Looking forward to your photo book :-)

  3. Hi Bianca, a slippery slope indeed. At one stage I looked at using an image by John William Waterhouse, not the actual image but the idea. Waterhouse has been dead for ages, well past the 70 years limit. The hard part comes because publishers have since used his work and they now own the copyright. I looked at Wiki-commons and they had a painting that is free to use. In the end I thought it was all too much trouble and bought a great picture online from a graphic artist. The good thing about all of this is, you, have created a whole range of wonderful sayings.

    1. Hi Laurie, that’s exactly where I ended up – too much trouble & not sure what’s what in those murky copyright waters. It’s a shame really. I thought that the artists I approached on DeviantArt would be more willing to at least give me some terms and conditions, but it was just a flat-out no. If someone approached me about quoting my work, I would be honoured and, at the very least, be willing to discuss it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bianca.

  4. I agree with you BG many years ago I started drawing I wasn’t very good (terrible actually) and had to use references for poses. I did not choose unusual poses just normal poses someone sitting cross-legged what not. I did not trace and my pictures were of such a poor quality no one could possibly believe that they were traced. I was part of an art group but again and again my pictures got rejected for copyright issues even though this was just a free sharing community. You can’t have someone in the cross-legged position, see this picture they must be in a position never before used (not just on the site but anywhere seriously anywhere).. How many damn positions can the human body get into precisely? I don’t know. If you give credit to the references and you aren’t making any money at all why can’t you use references to learn to draw? I really didn’t understand it but it was absolutely insane. The group used to be large but when the new management decided every piece of art must be 100% original (which actually went so far as having to deform the human form to ensure it) no one could get approved and it lost a lot of members. We are influenced by our lives and some of the influences are not even consciously noted.

    1. Really? That is absurd. Your last comment is so right – we are influenced by so many things (consciously and sub-consciously). All I wanted to do with my book was use some quotes (the kind people get off the web and share on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads etc. all the time). When you’re using a quote that is widely available to all in sundry, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to utilise them in a book (as long as they are short quotes, they are referenced, and credit is given). Oh well, you live and learn, don’t you?!
      Thanks for sharing your story, Bianca :-)

  5. I have yet to publish, but you raise questions that I too have struggled with. My inspiration is frequently whetted by something I see or read and want to express in my own way, but am afraid to do so. I too may take your course of creating my own quotes etc, and Laurie’s route of purchasing my graphics from the artist. Seems a little simpler.

    1. Hi Bob, that’s exactly my point – we are constantly influenced and inspired by all sorts of things. It was T.S. Eliot who said “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” When Eliot and Pound were writing, referencing poets and writers that influenced and inspired them was par for the course – it created a creative community of creative symbiosis that enriched their writing as a result. Unfortunately, copyright turns what could be a creative bridge into an insurmountable obstacle.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

  6. Laurie is spot on with this. We won’t be looking to others for great quotes, as you have created a whole series of them. Copyright and its bigger brother, Intellectual Property is a complex maze of laws that are ever changing and everyone has to cope and deal with those changes for better or worse. You have done an outstanding job. I started reading last night and as I turned to page 4 I read those familiar words of The Road of Life. It brought a tear to my eye. I was so excited I sent a link to the blog entry for that to my best friend and filled her in on the background to it. Her response was right on, “Awesome”.

    1. Hi Chris, I’m so happy to hear that you’re enjoying the book. Yes, copyright and IP is a complex maze that is best avoided altogether when publishing your own book. And, yes, I’m not unhappy about writing my own quotes – quite the opposite. The thing I was most disappointed about was the Klimt painting – but, considering my love for Klimt it’s to be expected :-)
      Always lovely to hear from you, my friend,
      Bianca x

  7. Hi Bianca,

    I definitely know what you are talking about. You want to pay homage to something that inspired you, but fear of copyrights are always in the back of your mind. How close can you get to a reference without going over that line. It’s such a grey area. I listened to this book from the library awhile ago on the exact topic. You might find Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema interesting. He is against the current copyright system and uses something called a creative commons copyright. He sells his books and has a publisher, but you can also download all his books for free on his website. It’s an interesting concept, which seems to be working for him. It’s a bit preachy about copyright issues, but a very fun story as well.


    1. Hi Sonya, thanks for sharing this. I’ll check him out! I had a look at the Creative Commons site, but the quotes I wanted to use weren’t CC.
      I think that unless you have a lawyer & a big budget, it’s better to avoid anything that is copyrighted. At least, that’s my conclusion.
      It’s still an interesting discussion to be had, though.

  8. this is such a great post. I think as writers this is something we all have run into and had to deal with. especially as independent writers without the aid of publishing houses and lawyers to deal with these sorts of issues. I had originally intended to use song titles for book chapters but after some research and learning how cloudy the whole copyright issue is, I decided to cut the titles and avoid the whole matter. It’s a shame, really. You often see quotes from songs or poets in books (Stephen King’s It come to mind; it’s peppered with song lyrics and quotes from poets).

    1. Yes, that’s exactly what I mean! Song titles as chapters would have been so meaningful (I’m yet to read your book, but from what I know song titles would likely be intrinsically linked to the story & characters, right?) That’s the point I’m trying to make – copyright should not be an obstacle in that case, so long as you reference copyright owners in the book etc.

      Like you, I also thought that it was too murky & just dropped it dead.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-)

  9. Bianca, I admire your desire not to infringe on copyrights. Your idea of writing your own quotes inspires me to continue doing the same with my own writing projects. I don’t know much about copyright laws so I will probably take the same route.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  10. I like to use images with my posts, and I’m always puzzled by artists on Deviantart or other art websites who get verbally aggressive at the thought of anyone sharing their art, even if you are crediting them by giving a link back to their work – I find that quite crazy! I don’t think some people understand the power of sharing what you have created, it actually creates more interest in who you are and what you are good at! Why would they want to hide their creations in a corner on the internet?!

    There are some artists who are doing extremely well now, having never had a policy of restricting copies of their work being shared on the internet. Alice X Zhang is one I can think of. As far as I know she has always allowed the sharing of her work, asking only that the sharing be linked back to her art page. It certainly hasn’t done her any damage, her art is everywhere, and she still sells a lot, and is even creating a range of Dr Who art for the BBC. Can’t be bad!! :)

    And sharing works for writers too. I shared a video on my writer page on Neil Gaiman talking of how his work being shared has actually caused him to become even more famous! If you want to see it on You Tube it’s called ‘Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web’ He believes that sharing is actually the way to success. Interesting man!

    Of course, there is a big difference between sharing for free and ripping an author or artists work off for profit. At least that’s how I see it anyway! :)

    1. Hi Suzy, I tend to agree with what you’re saying about sharing & I’ll definitely check out that YouTube video. I have seen the same kind of comments from DeviantArt artists & I can’t say I understand it – I mean, visual art is a great source of inspiration for the creative community & if they don’t want people sharing or using their art (linking back & giving credit of course) then they shouldn’t post it in a site like DeviantArt – doesn’t make sense to me?!..


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