Copyright and How it Applies to Coloring Books and Pages

Shared with Permission from a passionate Artist....This post was written as a guideline only for colorists - distribution of copyrighted material is against the law! You can read the original post here:

https://www.facebook.com/ColoringGifts/posts/846580612136573

There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst colorists about copyright and how it applies to coloring books and pages. Most people who break copyright law have good intentions, so I am writing this to clarify some issues about copyright of coloring images that I’ve seen come up multiple times, both with colorists and artists.

Copyright allows you to color images you purchased for personal use.

You MAY:

  • post your finished/colored work online (i.e. in Facebook groups) to share with others
  • give away your colored original piece to anyone you wish

You MAY NOT:

  • distribute copyrighted work, even if you paid for it
  • post blank uncolored pages online
  • give copies/scan uncolored pages to someone else – even if it’s a freebie posted by the artist

If you want to share a free page, share a link to where the artist posted it so others can visit their site and get it themselves.

Here are some common questions and misunderstandings about copyright:

“If I don’t make money by giving away the blank coloring sheet or an electronic file, I am not in violation of copyright.”
Wrong! Remember Napster? There was sharing, no money being exchanged, and they credited the artist. It was still illegal. You didn’t create the coloring sheet, so if you distribute original work that is not yours, you are breaking the law – even if you credit the artist.

“I am a big fan of this artist. Won’t giving away their coloring sheets give them more sales?”
This is like showing up at someone’s office, taking their paycheck and giving it away to other people because you love their work. If you give away a copyrighted image, the people who use it won’t be running out to buy the coloring sheet(s) they just got for free.

If you are a fan and want to publicize an artist’s work, the best thing you can do to support this artist is to share your colored work with the artist’s name and where you got the original from (such as the name of the artist’s book or their website). Usually colorists want to know where a colored page is from and what media was used to color it, so you might as well answer the question when you post the colored image.

“I bought and paid for the coloring book/image so it’s mine and I can do whatever I want with it.”
Copyright prohibits any distribution or reproduction of the original work. When you buy a movie or a CD it doesn’t give you the rights to burn copies and give them away or post it online for others to download – the same rule applies to coloring sheets/pages and books.

“Is sharing scans or copies of blank coloring sheets with a friend considered personal use?”
Personal use means for your own use. If you want to give away a copy to a friend you need to give them your original physical page that you bought or buy another book to give away. As with any physical object, you need to purchase it every time you give it as a gift.

So yes, you may cut out an original uncolored (or colored) page out of a physical book you purchased and give it away, but not copy it or scan it to distribute. You also should not share an electronic file you purchased (i.e. PDF file/ebook). If you want to share a file with a friend or give it as a gift, you need to purchase another electronic copy or ask your friend to purchase their own copy.

“I found this image on Pinterest or Google search, and can’t give an attribution because it didn’t have one. It’s the artist’s fault because they should have put their name on it.”
Most of the “free” coloring sheets posted online and on Pinterest are unfortunately stolen from artists. Coming across a bike without someone’s name on it doesn’t mean that it’s yours. As with any other item, just because it isn’t labelled doesn’t mean it belongs to you. We are adults and are well aware that the Internet is not a game of “finders keepers”.

You can trust images posted by the artist as a free download or sold from their facebook page or website. You probably have not noticed that all images in Google search results have a warning: “Images may be subject to copyright” – so the argument that they’re free of copyright because you found them on Google or Pinterest is invalid.

Using the words “Credit to the artist” when you post copyrighted work does not mean you’re not breaking copyright law. Artists today need to post their work online to promote it – that does not mean it’s OK to steal it. You don’t steal store displays – the same applies to an artist’s online presence.

“I have cancer/some illness/am disabled, can I just color this sheet without paying for it? It’s not hurting anyone.”
When someone is ill, it doesn’t mean they can just grab items from the grocery store shelves and not pay for them – copyright laws apply to everyone regardless of their health condition. Check with your hospital or doctors. Many artists generously donate coloring pages/books to cancer centers and other medical offices to be used by people undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis and many other medical procedures.

Many times people who know someone with an illness want to help and don’t know how. Let your friends and family know that you would love to have a particular coloring book. Ask for them on your birthday or for holiday gifts. Coloring books are a gift that gives hours of enjoyment for a low price. Check the artist’s site for legal samples, almost all artists legally offer free samples posted on their sites or Facebook pages. Join ethical coloring groups and enter some of the many giveaways. Most of all, ask yourself, “Will it truly improve my health and recovery to color stolen artwork?”

color-your-way-to-happy

This is not a victimless crime. The cliché about starving artists rings true because art is generally not the most profitable profession out there. Coloring book authors are real people struggling to pay bills and feed their families. Many are single parents, have disabilities that keep them from being able to work outside the home, or have health issues that keep them from being able to work in a regular office environment. Some work full time and stay up late after they get off work, and their children are in bed, and lose sleep to work on their material – hoping for a little side income to help make ends meet.

Art may look easy, but there is a lot of work and expense that goes into it. Expenses include pens, papers, markers, pencils, erasers, scanners, computers, cameras, printers, and software. Add to that the time that it takes to research one’s subject, draw a coloring sheet, clean it up, get it ready to publish (and to learn how to publish in the first place), and either get it formatted for a book or on an online store, publish or post for sale, plus the extensive time that goes into marketing one’s work, and in the event money is made – bookkeeping time and expenses.

This doesn’t even include the time it takes to learn to draw the art itself, through hours of grit and hard work, or the bills related to art classes and college courses. People tend to think artists are born with this innate talent, but no one seems to notice the countless hours they spend honing their skill. As any artist who ever figured out how to draw lips, hair/fur, eyes, hands, or a landscape that looks 3-dimensional instead of flat can attest, there is real struggle and work involved in learning to make art.

“Now I feel like I can’t post anything online in fear of breaking the law.”
It’s fine to post your coloring work in progress or finished coloring sheet. Just cite your sources for each picture posted. Coloring should be fun and relaxing. Drinking is legal; drunk driving is not. Police are not killjoys for arresting people driving while intoxicated, and neither are artist’s killjoys for protecting their copyrighted work and source of income.

You can buy coloring books (they truly are everywhere now – bookstores, supermarkets, dollar store, you name it), or download coloring sheets from the artist’s online store. If you’re on a tight budget, look at the artist’s page for free samples, or ask your friends and family for coloring books as gifts. Don’t download from Google, from any sketchy web sites full of free coloring pages (particularly foreign ones – you may end up with viruses and spyware in addition to stolen images), and don’t download from Pinterest. Those easy rules of thumb will keep coloring fun and stress-free, like it’s supposed to be.

I am addressing copyright because I have seen several coloring book artists leave the field or become discouraged because of art theft. If you believe artists are killjoys for talking about copyright, then I imagine that if someone steals your wallet you would not call the police so you don’t ruin that person’s fun. Artists enjoy sending takedown notices about as much as you’d enjoy filling out a police report after someone stole your property.

I’ve seen several artist friends find out their work has been stolen and have seen their reaction: shock, grief, frustration, anger, helplessness. Many hours are used up dealing with the incident and some are not able to draw for days or weeks after. I know those feelings well because that’s exactly how I felt after my home was broken into and after my purse was stolen. It grieves me to see my friends feel that way.

Why have fun at someone else’s expense? Let’s keep it legal! Otherwise we may all end up coloring stick figures – and where’s the fun in that?

Keep coloring enjoyable for yourself (guilt free!) and for the artists so we can work together to do what we love: color and relax!

You can show your support for Artists and Colorists through coloring this page and sharing it in your favourite Facebook coloring group!

color-your-way-to-happy

Click on the coloring page above to download.

When the page opens, right click your mouse to 'save as' to your computer.

Print & Color :)​

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40 Responses to Copyright and How it Applies to Coloring Books and Pages

  1. Mishee says:

    I have been searching for the answer to this question. Maybe you can answer it for me.
    From a book I purchased, I scan and print several pictures of one particular page? I really like certain pictures and I want to have several copies so I can color it in different color schemes. I am saddened that I can only color a favorite picture one way. Sometimes I like to experiment with different techniques. So, is it illegal to scan and print multiple copies for my own personal use?

    • admin says:

      It all depends upon the copyright policy which is usually printed within the first few pages of the coloring book. You should always read the copyright policy that applies to every coloring book you purchase because they can differ.

      For my own series of coloring books I make an exception to the copyright policy to allow the purchaser to photocopy or scan the original pages to print and color over and over for their personal use only. Another option is to check if the author offers a PDF version of their book. I offer a PDF instant downloadable version of my own books for this very reason, as I understand many people like to color pages from a book many ways or try different coloring techniques.

      • Leah Jackson says:

        Under the “First Sale Doctrine law you can sale the pictures you colored you cannot make copies of the picture

  2. Nancy Schultz says:

    Not sure where to find the answer to this -do I need permission or how do I get permission to scan and reduce pages that I have colored to use in making cards for my own personal use?

    • admin says:

      Hi Nancy and thanks for your question.
      I’m not a qualified copyright lawyer however, you should always check the copyright rules of each artist’s coloring book which you will generally find at the front of the book. This will outline what you can/cannot do with their artwork. If you are ever unsure, you should contact the artist directly and get the answer in writing.

      When it comes to my own artwork, I am happy for you to make copies of the original artwork page for your own personal use to color over again. You may scan/reduce a colored page once to use for card marking purposes, just as long as it is for your own personal use to give to a friend or family member. If you print the scanned/reduced image more than once, that’s when you will be breaking copyright rules unless you are paying the artist for each copy. You are also not permitted to sell the cards that you make using the coloring book images, nor can you sell the uncolored or colored pages of the images/artwork.

      I hope this answers your question and good luck with your card making 🙂 Nerine

  3. Tabby May says:

    Dear author of the article,

    Would it be okay if I’d translate this outstanding article to Dutch for our coloring website kleurvolwassen.nl? We often have to deal with the same questions and this article is just perfect to let people know what the rules are and how we support the artists.
    Obviously a link to this original will be added below as the source and we would ask our visitors to go to your website for the free coloring sheet under the article.

    Looking forward to your respons.
    Kind regards,
    Tabby May
    (of tabbymayart.com and kleurvolwassen.nl)

  4. Darcie Moldovan says:

    Thank you so much for addressing this.

  5. MD Kennedy says:

    Thanks for promoting this issue! For online printables, my standard is that if I cannot locate the name of the artist and a link to their online presence, and/or the usage license (CC By x.0), I consider it “stolen.” I addressed this issue myself at http://adult-coloring-101.com/2016/04/give-artists-the-credit-they-deserve/

    • This is true. I make a lot of custom patterns that I give away and I do not put my sig on them. Many other artists do the same on sites like public domain pictures. I do this because several companies are trying to copy write everything they get there hands on. I think they even take artists work and file copy write on them so if there is no challenge it becomes theirs. Just my opinion.

  6. Esther Wallace says:

    Thank you for addressing this point. I would like to publish my final coloured-in pictures on my own blog/ facebook page and I have been afraid to do so. Is that a problem?
    Thanks

    • admin says:

      As long as you credit/tag the artist’s name and name of the coloring book the colored-in page is from, in most cases, it is ok to post the colored pages to your own blog or facebook page. Most artists include copyright guidelines in their coloring books, so you should always check that first. If in doubt you can always contact the artist to seek approval and most artists would appreciate that 🙂

      • Sharon says:

        I think you are wrong: NONE of the many, many coloring books I own have included copyright guidelines.

        • admin says:

          Hi Sharon,
          Thanks for your comment. As Indie Artists, the majority of us do include copyright guidelines in our books and my store purchased books do to. However, not all coloring books will include this info, depending on their publishers and where the books have been produced.
          Hope this helps
          regards
          Nerine

  7. Reginald says:

    I have a problem where a coloring book’s copyrights were tranfared to my company by the pi owner. This was done through a legal document. The person now claims the book belongs to her because we have given it a national distribution with government. Please help with how can we legally protect our book

  8. Rachel says:

    If I wanted to add the colored image to something I am selling do I need to get permission?

    • admin says:

      Hi Rachel and thanks for your question.
      I would be certain that most artists would not allow this, so I would most definitely contact them first to ask permission and get it in writing from them. It’s always safer to ask permission first rather than violating an artist’s copyright. Nerine 🙂

  9. Kathryn says:

    After purchasing a Thomas Kinkade Posh coloring book, which provides an colored artist’s rendering of each page, I saw in one of our FB coloring groups that making a black & white copy in order to make the page ‘grayscale’ & easier to color was a copyright infringement. I, therefore, contacted the publisher asking permission to do this myself and never heard back from them. 🙁 The line drawings provided in the book are rather difficult for me to color. I haven’t colored in this book since. What else can be done?

    • admin says:

      Hi Kathryn
      You have certainly done the right thing in seeking permission. However, unless you do get permission ‘in writing’ there’s nothing more you can do in this situation until you hear back from the publisher. I suggest you just keep trying via email or through their website to contact someone to explain your situation and hopefully you will get approval.

  10. Mary says:

    if i color a complete page in a coloring book can i use that page to make fabric for my clothing line or is it still against the law

    • admin says:

      If you are wanting to use the colored page for any other use that what it was originally designed for you should always seek permission from the author otherwise you could be breaking copyright rules.

  11. Kym says:

    Is sharing a social media post of someone else’s coloring illegal?
    For example: I color a legally obtained lineart image (I legally bought the black & white coloring page/image or it was shared freely by the artist and that artist has granted permission for me to publicly share it once I have colored it). I post my final colored version of that lineart image on Facebook (I have cited the original lineart artist and that I am the colorist on the image). Someone then shares my colored image post either by using the share button or they post it after saving/downloading it.
    Is it legal for them to do that if I did not grant permission for my colored image to be shared? Does it make a difference if they state I am the colorist (whether my name and/or the original lineart artist’s name is still visible or if has been removed)? Does it make a difference if they pass it off as their own coloring (also, any differences whether my name and/or the original lineart artist’s name is still visible or if has been removed)? I can find a lot of information about the legality of sharing uncolored images and the sale of colored images, but noting about simply sharing colored images by someone other than the original colorist. (thanks for any help you can provide)

    • admin says:

      Hi Kym
      Firstly I’d like to say thanks for being a responsible colorist and legally obtaining coloring pages and citing the artist and/or the book name in your posts. When it comes to ‘sharing’ colored pages on social media most artists are appreciative of colorists doing this. Some artists will then share your post to their own page or group, giving credit to you for coloring their design and they will usually seek your permission to do this. However, if another colorist is sharing your colored pages and claiming they were the colorist and are removing your details, that is not ok and is actually stealing. Unfortunately this does happen so what I would do is report their post/s to the admin of the group. I’ve also heard of people being reported to facebook too, so you may want to look into this option as well. Hope this helps 🙂

  12. Diana says:

    I am wondering how this affects drawing the image over again yourself in your own hand but just not drawing it in exactly the same way? For example, you like how someone draws a horse in one picture, and you like how someone draws a farm, barn, grass etc…in other pictures, so you redraw to make your own picture? You never download, copy or redistribute a picture, but you may like it enough to draw a picture and add a few of someone’s elements. You didn’t exactly copy it as it’s in your own hand.

  13. Beau Hopkins says:

    I don’t utilize coloring books, but I love coloring old black & white photographs. Recently I have discovered that other folks are doing this form of art as well as getting paid for it. While I understand that the licenses for photographs are similar (commercial use vs. personal use) I am still unclear on some things.
    1) If the original image is not changed (I use layering techniques that leave the image as an overlay to the the color layers in the background) does this change/violate the copyright law for selling the art?
    2) If the image layer is removed and the layers are the only thing present is it still considered the same image?
    2a) Would it be like painting a picture of a picture… and is that still a violation of copyright laws?
    2b) If I change the colorized image enough, such as I add or remove items to the image such as cups, plants, etc., does it become my own work?
    3) Are you aware of reliable websites / companies / services that can help determine the copyright holder of an image?
    4) Can a person copyright an image after it is colorized?
    4a) Does the colorized image become the original photographers / artists property and if so can they display/sell/modify the colorizers work?
    5) I know some works of art can hold copyright for differing lengths of time before they are considered public domain. When do images/art become public domain?

    • admin says:

      My suggestion would be to get in contact with a lawyer that specialises in copyright law as you have many questions specific to your situation. This post was written by an Indie Artist and was intended as a guideline to help colorists understand what they could/couldn’t do with their coloring books and pages. However, you may find this link quite helpful in addressing ‘fair use’ http://lizerbramlaw.com/2016/06/07/copyright-law-and-adult-coloring-books/ but it’s always better to seek professional guidance on matters like these for your own peace of mind.

  14. Denise Atchinson says:

    I do stained glass painting, Is it ok for me to use a adult coloring book picture as a pattern that i put on the glass, then paint it, then sell ??

    • admin says:

      If you are wanting to use the colored page for any other use than what it was originally designed for, you should always seek permission from the author otherwise you could be breaking copyright rules. A lot of artists will include a copyright notice inside their coloring books that outlines what you can/can’t do with their designs. I always recommend contacting the artist to be on the safe side.

  15. Mariska Wentzel says:

    Hi there, I quite enjoyed the article but I have a question completely different than referred to in the article.
    I’m making my own equine coloring book, hand drawn and are looking for distributors once it’s done.
    Can you please assist with a list of publishers / copyright lawyers I can try out?
    Thank you

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your question but I don’t have any information on what you’re asking. I self publish my books through Createspace dot com.

  16. Elize Reyneke says:

    Are you as a colorist under any obligation to name an artist name in a group. I found it is intimination of an admin to make you name an artist on your already colored in picture

    • admin says:

      I have actually seen Admins request this information on many occasions as they are trying to encourage people to be a ‘responsible colorist’. In other words, that the colored page has been sourced from a legitimate site (i.e. you purchased the page from an artist’s website/etsy or you purchased their coloring book or you received it free from the artist). Most groups have rules stating that the colorist is to cite the artist’s name or book the page is from, to avoid any copyright issues or from obtaining free pages from pinterest or websites sharing stolen art work.

  17. Lilly says:

    How are copyrights obtained? Does someone just say their work is copyrighted or do they have to fill out something and pay for it?
    What about public domain pictures? There’re a lot of books that claim public domain. How do you cite a public domain picture?

  18. Angela Harrington says:

    I have a quick question. I have several pictures that I have colored. If I wanted to use one of the pics that I colored to be printed on something, would that be in violation of the copy right Law?

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