Did This Painter Steal My Photo?

In my newsfeed this morning on facebook, I saw a striking image. It was a painting of a bison and a boy by Indonesian artist Elicia Edijanto, who is currently exhibiting work in Orlando, according to Colossal.com. It was a good painting, but that’s not what was so striking about it: I realized that it appeared to be copied from my own photograph.

In October of 2010, I was driving through Yellowstone National Park, on my way home after a long road trip in Colorado and Utah, when I saw a bison walking towards the steam rolling off of the Grand Prismatic Spring. I stopped and took several photographs, including this one:

Buffalo in Yellowstone Park Fog

Edijanto’s painting looks pretty similar from the outset…

Painting by Elicia Edijanto
Painting titled “Heal” by Elicia Edijanto

But after taking a moment to flip the painting over and resize them in Photoshop, the similarity seemed too strong for a coincidence.


(You can grab the double arrows in the circle in the center of this image and drag it left or right to reveal the separate layers)

So, now the question is this: what do I do about it, if anything? I didn’t license the image to this person. Perhaps I’ll start by emailing the artist, before contacting my lawyer again.

What do you think? Is it a copy? And if so, is it acceptable?

Update: Examples

A few people have made comments to the effect that 1) there are lots of bison pictures out there on the internet and 2) lots of them would overlay on the painting just as well as yours.

This is an understandable comment, at first. Bison do have a very iconic shape, so it’s easy to imagine that any single bison could just as easily replace another in a photograph. However, bison are animals, and like just about anything found in nature, no two of them are alike. Some of them are tall, some are stocky. Some are male, some female. Some are fat, some are muscular, some are thin. Some are old, some are young; some have big heads, some have long beards, etc. Most bison in the USA are actually “beefalo”, ie, they have cattle stock interbred, so some look more like domestic cattle. And of course, this is all in addition to how their bodies are positioned when photographed. The combination of all of those things (and more) mean that the outline of every bison is going to be very distinctive.

And this becomes more and more obvious when you actually attempt to overlay the shapes of random bison over the painting in question.  Take, for example, the image that Darleen posted in the comments below. This is what it looks like:

This stock photo looks pretty similar to my bison; it's a similar stance and, well, it's a bison.
This stock photo looks pretty similar to my bison; it’s a similar stance and, well, it’s a bison.

If we isolate just the shape of the bison, here’s what we get:


And then, if you turn that shape green (so that we can tell what’s what) and overlay it on top of the painting, you can see how similar they are. Not. I sized them so that they’re the same length from nose to tail, and the tops of the humps are very roughly lined up.


Nobody could ever suggest that the painting was copied from this bison. They’re just not that similar.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, if that bison were photographed in the fall, when it’s fattened up for the winter… or it were standing differently… or it were older (or whatever), then it would be a close match! And an image like that is probably out there.”

Well, then I challenge you to find it. I have. It’s my photograph.

I also spent time some looking around the internet for bison pictures to see if I could find anything that was even close to matching my photo. This was the first one that I tried from my initial search:

American-BisonThen I put the outline over the painting, and…

fog-paint-bot-greenFirst I tried to match up the body length, as you can see above. Then I tried to match up the head size, and you’ll find the results below:

fog-paint-bot-redAnd these two images were not just flukes. I tried to find other images in which the bison was more like the one in my photograph, and the results were like the ones above. Yes, you can tell that all of them are bison, but none of them are the same bison, from the same picture.

Now, scroll back up and look once more at the comparison between my bison and the one in the painting.

When I originally contacted the painter, on the day that I discovered this, she emailed me back. She was miffed that I’d even suggested that she’s used my image without permission. If I were wrong, though, she could VERY easily have sent me a copy of the image that she had used as a reference. As unlikely as it is that she used the one image out there that also matches up perfectly with my photo and her painting, if she had produced her reference photo, I’d have apologized and moved on. Instead, she said:

I gather several bison photos from free-licensed web, turn them into silhouettes so that I can draw easier, and every bison look like a bison!

Indeed? Every bison? And these are the images she attached:

Now, even if I’m right, it that doesn’t mean that going to court would be a cakewalk. It would be expensive, and since the artist doesn’t even seem to be American, even if I won in court, the US courts may not be able to enforce a decision. For now, it’s enough for me that I know I’m right, and she knows I’m right… and she has to live with knowing that I know, and anyone else could find out at any time, for the rest of her career.

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Dave Grenier

I would have sent a cease-and-desist letter, as I did (successfully) when I once discovered someone using my original artwork (visible on a web site I had at the time) on one of their own products. The letter wasn’t even from an attorney. When someone is guilty, they know they’re guilty, and they often react appropriately just to avoid trouble.

Pat McEntee

Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but that doesn’t put food on your table or a roof over your head.


Its a personal call. I would take it as a compliment, feel good about it and move on. Its very unlikely that person’s painting is going to cannibalise income that you might get from your photo (and its your photo; not your bison as you wrote!). All art is inspired or derived. There is a poem by Robert Frost that has always moved me. Its called “The Most of It”. May I?

He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree–hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder–broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter–love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far distant water splashed,
But after a time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.

That poem could inspire me to explore wild country and solitude one day, to try to paint or photograph a great antlered buck swimming across a misty lake or coming out of it the water streaming off its back. The question is, would I be stealing?

To credit you would be the correct thing of course but I’d object much more if someone was printing T-shirts with your actual photo and selling them.

Darleen Nilson

You might have an awfully hard case here… all of her pictures are invocative of fog.. not just the buffalo. There are lots of stock pictures of male buffalo out there one here that could be matched up just like yours. She also lives in Jakarta .. If she was your wife or girlfriend you might have abetter case. http://image.shutterstock.com/display_pic_with_logo/1163291/109131647/stock-photo-american-bison-male-bellowing-during-mating-season-109131647.jpg


This viewer feels the case for derivative is a slam dunk, and solid for copy.
The sloping background and close similarity of image and profile are persuasive.
The lawyer’s letter should be the first notice received by the artist and it could include an inquiry as to the source and a request for copies of relevant material.


You might have a case to argue however the knees are different, the male extremety is different, the tail is slightly different, the slope up behind his head is different and, as someone said, the V is different. The courts will pick on every little bit of difference. The painting is indeed similar, the fact that she left out the background might suggest she didn’t want it to look exactly like your photo. She may have taken the photo herself and used that, in which case she should still have the photo and if she doesn’t, maybe is good evidence in favour of your case.
I wish you the best of luck.

Rich B

All bison look the same??????? What a croc. I hope you win!

Rheal Bourgeois

……..but the spacing between the hind legs DOES NOT line up.
There is a difference in the shape of the “V” the thickness of the rear and front legs

Nazmus Saqib

This is definitely a copy. I don’t know what laws say about doing this kind of stuffs, but the artist should have at least asked for your permission before posting or using his art which was totally inspired by your photograph.

Actually the word “copy” suits it much better than just saying “inspired by” !