Artist Paints Worldly Paintings Via Google Street View; Google Cheers Him On

from the hear-that,-AP? dept

By now you’ve all heard about the lawsuit between Shepard Fairey for taking a photo, which the AP claims it owns (though, that’s in dispute), and turning it into the iconic election poster for Barack Obama. However, it seems that other companies don’t react in such a way when people turn their photographs into art. Ed Kohler points us to a story of a painter, Bill Guffey, who has been using Google Street View to find scenes around the globe to paint. He’s able to paint far away towns without leaving his house. And he’s doing it for commercial purposes. The article notes that he’s painted nearly 100 such images, and sold 30 to 40 of them, some for as much as $1,500.

Now, if Google were acting like the AP, it might freak out and demand compensation. Of course, it would probably lose in court (as the AP is likely to lose) because the works are transformative and almost certainly fair use. But, being Google (and having copyright lawyers who understand these things), it doesn’t seem likely to do that. Instead, it actually appears to be quite thrilled to find out about this project:

“When we were creating Street View, we were excited about all the everyday uses, like looking for parking or planning trips,” Stephen Chau, product manager for Google Street View, said. “Bill’s use of Street View, to inspire his paintings and to create a virtual community of artists, is a remarkable example that we hadn’t imagined but are really excited to see. It’s been amazing to see the possibilities that have opened up as Street View has been brought to more places around the world.”

The AP really ought to take note.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: google

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Artist Paints Worldly Paintings Via Google Street View; Google Cheers Him On”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
OP says:

Re: Re:

“The difference is pretty simple – Bill Guffey is looking at a picture, and making an entirely new work of art from scratch.”

How do you know this? I don’t know his method, but he conceivably could’ve captured and printed the digital image, transferred it to whatever he paints on, and painted on top of it. Or created a film slide he could project onto the surface to be painted over.

Much like Fairey had done, only digitally.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you took a couple of seconds to check the images in the article, you will see that the paintings, while having many of the features of the street view images, are not exactly of the same perspective and such, which is a good indication of a true work of art (artist looks at something, and paints it) as opposed to a copy or digital manipulation.

This ain’t paint by numbers, that is for sure. It certainly isn’t a digital manipulation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not in the slightest – you can take the obama picture and show a point to point correlation, exact same angle, etc – because at the root, he used the digital image and manipulated it from there.

The painter? He does what plenty of painters do, look at a picture and paint their interpretation of it.

If the Obama Hope poster dude had done that, there would be no issue.

AP show pay attention to this story, only because it’s a great example of what is right and what is wrong!

E-Rocker says:

Re: Re:

Your claim seems to be that because a computer was used to modify existing art, and not a brush, it can not be original.

If Guffey had printed the Street View images and painted over them, transforming the canvas to the images he has now, would it make any difference that the original is hiding beneath?

I also recommend you look up Kutiman’s “Thru You” album. It was mentioned on TechDirt a while back. Essentially this artist took existing YouTube video clips and re-mixed them info full-length songs. Does this not count as art because he didn’t go into a studio and record each instrument from scratch? In the end, all he did was use a computer, like Fairey, and I have a hard time believing it isn’t art, or original.

Iris (profile) says:

Not quite a valid comparison

While I generally agree with the get-over-yourself-AP sentiment, in this case you’re comparing the reaction to what’s essentially a nonmonetized side business for Google with the core of the AP’s operation (selling content). Google’s in the ad biz, not the content biz, so it views the world (pardon the pun) differently and is far less likely to perceive use of its content, regardless of its transformative nature, as “theft”.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Not quite a valid comparison

Actually, I think it’s a pretty good comparison.

Google did a lot of leg work to make a product that it didn’t expect to get paid for directly. Someone else thought of a creative way to make money off of it.

This is where many companies today would sue. Google didn’t.

Kudos, Google and Mr. Guffey.

Bill Guffey (user link) says:


Interesting conversation. And just to clarify, these are totally my creations with paint and canvas. No printing and pasting. Not even a use of a projector. There are a few paintings that I posted the steps of the painting, from intial sketch to the final painting. They’re on my blog if anyone wants to see them.

And just as a side note, I spoke to Google reps before I ever sold the first piece. Wanted to make sure there was no copyright infringement.

Mike C. (profile) says:

Re: paintings

Nice to see the artist involved in the online discussion!

Thanks for the clarification of how your work was done. I think the point the earlier posters were trying to make, though, was to offset the AC’s contention that Fairey’s use of a computer meant his work was still infringing. The theory is that it didn’t matter what tool was used (computer or hand), in the end the work is still transformative.

On a side note, I find it a rather sad testament to the state of copyright today that an artist now thinks of clearing whether or not his original art is infringing.

OP says:

Re: Re: paintings

Mike C. interpreted my comment correctly (thanks!) – it’s why I disclaimed that I didn’t know your method, merely speculated a potentially realistic scenario for the AC comment.

As an occasional painter who is drawn to architectural subject matter, I love what you’re doing, Mr. Guffey!

Artists (of all kinds, really) constantly use reference materials, in process or before beginning, in plain sight or even from memory. If one wants to depict cherry blossoms in a painting but it’s the dead of winter, do I have to obtain consent from someone who snapped a pic and shot it onto the internet before I can use it as a reference?

Is that where things are headed? Is that what copyright was meant to do? Are we all supposed to hire lawyers to ride herd on our works – for infringement upon our or others’ copyright – instead of just…yanno…doing the work?

Because that, to me, seems an unnatural anathema to any and ALL creative achievement since humans started making marks on cave walls.

‘Og dip hand in blood, slap hand on wall – Og make art!’
‘Ug put hand in poop, slap hand on wall – Ug make art too!’
‘Og call lawyer! Ug make unauthorized derivative work! Og claim harm!’
‘Ug claim fair use!’

Then Og stifles Ug and any other poop handed artists to death with a bison femur.

Who loses? History. Culture. Humans. It’s depressing.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...