Guffey actually talked with the Google Maps team and received their approval to the idea of creating paintings from Google Maps Street Views and selling them. The only caveat is that if the original source photographic view is shown along with the painting, that credit be assigned for the photograph (Google logo and copyright visible in the photograph). There is no claim of restriction on the paintings themselves.
This addresses the issue with using photographs by others as source material for artists, in that photographs themselves can be works of art, and are copyrightable.
The issues there are somewhat murky, involving interpretation based on verisimilitude and the legal status of the source photograph. An interesting example of this is the controversy surrounding the use of an AP photo for Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster of Barack Obama, and the subsequent suit by the AP.
The OK by Google over use of their maps photography for paintings obviates the issue of permission in individual cases where paintings are made using traditional media (though I’m sure that digital manipulation of the source photographs to make a digital work is another issue entirely).
Guffey, who has been using Google Maps Street views in a series of this own paintings, such as his State Series, realized that this opened the door to a Virtual Paintout, using Google Maps views of a particular place as the theme to create a virtual version of a traditional paintout gathering.
This is in some ways similar to the themed group painting and blog posting projects like Karin Jurick’s Different Strokes from Different Folks, in which the source inspiration is a single photograph (see my posts on Different Strokes from Different Folks and Different Strokes from Different Folks Portrait Swap).
Previous Virtual Paintout locations included Baltimore and Seattle. The most recent completed Virtual Paintout location was Amsterdam, from which I’ve pulled a few examples at left (top to bottom: Phil Holt, Sharon Williamson, Carol Morgan, Bill Guffey).
The new, current Virtual Paintout location is Paris (ah, Paris!). This one starts now and runs to the end of May. The blog post provides a map and a link to the larger original map on Google. You would use the latter to access Street View.
If you haven’t used Google Street View before, prepare to be amazed. On the full size map, drag the small icon of a person from the upper left view control bar into the image to see a street view from that location. Mouse across the image to rotate the view or look up and down. Move the figure in the inset map to move the view, or click back on the minus sign in the upper left to pull back to map view.
Find a location you like, perhaps take a screenshot for further reference and start painting. (Are there any views in central Paris that are not potential views for a painting?) There are more complete instructions, including how to submit your painting to the Virtual Paintout blog, in the blog’s right hand column.