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Dash of Inspiration: Don’t be a Copy Cat

November 23, 2015


With GCU refining their Submission Guidelines this  past year to include a “No As-Is” Policy on 3rd Party Resource use, I thought it helpful to re-publish this post from the past. Some of it applies to this subject.

You can not call yourself an artist if you take a photograph, graphic, painting or illustration that someone else created and just add a border, text or re-color the image to make it a greeting card. An artist is inspired by that 3rd party element and uses it in a brand new creation – and that’s what GCU is looking for – anyone  can take imagery created by someone else and change the color, add a border and/or add text then call it a greeting card.


Initially posted March 17, 2014

Let’s face it, as a greeting card designer, a prerequisite would be CREATIVITY.

Definition: cre·a·tiv·i·ty (krē-āˈtivitē) – noun – The use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work.

Synonyms: inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality, individuality, artistry, inspiration, vision

In fact, GCU enforces their policy which states: “Creative Works Misuse Policy is enforced in order to prevent the misuse of the original creative works, image/art and verse, of artists. All GCUniverse artists have agreed to and accepted in our Terms & Conditions that they have or own the rights to use and sell all images/art and verse they submit. Artists also agree to this each time a card is created … GCUniverse will not tolerate the copying of another artist’s creative work – no copy cats, poachers, no “borrowing”, no stealing. If it’s not your idea, artwork or unique verse – Don’t use it!”

So, what does this mean?

1)       Be inspired by another artist’s design, don’t copy it. Your creation should have your own unique style, which when complete, no longer resembles the design that inspired you. Inspiration should be a wave that washes over you to create something new and entirely different.

2)       Do not use verses, poems, song lyrics, and quotes you find on the internet and claim them as your own. Either be inspired by them to write your own or don’t use them.  If you choose to use them anyway, then GIVE CREDIT, both where the words are placed and in your Artist Notes – regardless of whether it’s Public Domain or not … if you didn’t write, it’s NOT YOURS.

3)       Though images in Public Domain can be used on greeting cards, how non-creative to simply plop a public domain image/photograph on a card, add Get Well Soon on the card front and call it yours to make money on. Even if you use a public domain image and do not create a derivative work, you should not claim it as your own; which is what you are doing when you say Image by XYZ© or Image by XYZREVISED: GCU no longer allows the use of 3rd party elements “As is”.

4)       If you use elements in your design, whether free or purchased, in public domain or as a creative use policy – you should offer credit in your Artist Notes. I realize some artists/photographers do not require attribution – however as an artist, isn’t it a bit unethical to not attribute those who so generously created elements for you to use?

5)      Let’s not forget, that even Bible verses fall into Public Domain and copyright protected versions. Use the King James version as it is in the public domain.




  1. ALWAYS keep track of the URL links to the elements/imagery you use in your card design and put those links in your Notes to Reviewer. As an example, here are my Notes to Reviewer for the card shown in this article:

Notes to Reviewer:  Mountain scene can be found here: – Raccoon is from: and Hawk from here:

  1. Protect yourself by always offering credit in your Artist Notes. As an example, here are my Artist Notes for the card shown in this article:

Beautiful lake view with mountains and woodland creatures in this digital photographic Announcement. Original design by Doreen Erhardt ©2013. Elements courtesy of A Digital Dreamer, Harlequeen & George Gentry of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at WikiCommons.

  1. ANYTIME you use a verse, poem, quote or song lyrics and you feel you have the right to use it – a) give proper credit AND b) give a link to where you found it in your Notes to Reviewer.
  2. If you want to use song lyrics or a poem, do your own research – if it’s not in Public Domain, GCU will not allow you to use it.
  3. If you were inspired by another design, give the link to the original design to the Review Team in your Notes to them so you can get a 2nd opinion on whether your design is unique enough to not be considered a copy.
  4. Learn what constitutes a Derivative Work. Recoloring, adding a border/words, are both considered using in a Stand Alone manner.
  5. Just because something is in the Public Domain today, does not mean that status can’t change. It’s not unheard of for artists to remove their work from Public Domain if they feel it’s being abused, or for the family after a contributors death to decide they no longer want to give that persons work away as Public Domain. You can protect yourself by always giving credit in your Artist Notes, and when attribution is required add credit to the image itself – prove that you are not taking credit for that which is not yours.

Remember, GCU has the right to not only decline cards for Creative Use Policy, but to close stores when the artist continues to abuse this policy. So be inspired, but be the creator of something new and different. Use the many elements/images offered to creatives by creatives, but create new derivative works of art which you can claim as your own. And, if you didn’t take the photograph, write the verse, author the quote, illustrate the artwork, then it’s not yours to claim.

Here are some previous posts which offer some further details on this and related subjects:

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Submission Guidelines – Examples Creative Use Policy

Understanding TOU (Terms of Use)

So, until next week … Learn … Create … Inspire!

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