Dada, IP and DRM…

I don’t know a lot about Art. Nearly 20 years ago while at university I read Gardner’s Art through the Ages , (1200 odd pages!) over a weekend so that I could seem vaguely knowledgeable on a hot date. I spotted the Fauvists, Cubists, Dada and the Expressionists. It was worth the effort because she eventually married me.

The Turner prize does leave me a tad confused, but at the same time fascinated.

This weekend I met an artist, she does cool stuff taking images and manipulating them either electronically or with scissors but before she starts blogging and exhibiting these, she wants to know about the copyright position. I’m not a copyright lawyer, but the topic interests me.

What’s the legal position of say using a photo of George W Bush and morphing into another politician or perhaps life form? It raises alot of interesting questions. I had a browse around the web and a couldn’t find a good site to advise artists on what they should do with regards to copyright and trademark. There is some stuff here and here, but nothing really detailed. Do art schools teach IP? Should they?

This was one of the pictures that I remember from my romance inspired research. This is Marcel Duchamp’s take on the Mona Lisa. It caused an uproar in 1919. The Mona Lisa itself is out of copyright, as Leonardo shuffled off several 100 years ago, but the Duchamp version is not.

What would be the position if I took Duchamp’s parody and parodied that? by adding some Oakley shades and a Prada handbag? I’d likely need permission from his estate, at least until say 2029 (French Copyright law) Would I need permission from Oakley? …(BTW I can’t access the DADA manifesto in Wikipedia because of copyright.)

Andy Warhol’s Mao also got me thinking

What rights does the original photographer have? What rights would Mao, or his estate have over his image?

Would Campbell soup be as happy with this use of their trademark

If it showed the product in a negative light, say with worms coming out of it….?

If you want to see how copyright issues impact art and culture have a look at Lessig’s free Culture pages 95-98 This is scary stuff. There is a distinct imbalance between the commercial and the creative in copyright practice today. It does need fixing, but I’m not sure that it will be.

Lessig shows how the fair use doctrine has been weakened.

In theory, fair use means you need no permission. The theory therefore supports free culture and insulates against a permission culture. But in practice, fair use functions very differently. The fuzzy lines of the law, tied to the extraordinary liability if lines are crossed, means that the effective fair use for many types of creators is slight. The law has the right aim; practice has defeated the aim.

This practice shows just how far the law has come from its eighteenth-century roots. The law was born as a shield to protect publishers’ profits against the unfair competition of a pirate. It has matured into a sword that interferes with any use, transformative or not.

What does all this have to do with DRM? Well quite a lot. DRM basically hard codes copyright policy into the copyright document. There are many issues with DRM, there are lots of sites on this and I’ll probably provide some links in another post. But one of the biggest issues is that of fair use. Most of the controversy with DRM is with music, but the other arts require attention too. If you would like to read an up to date view of the DRM issues, check out the Center for Democracy and Technology whitepaper.

Just as music is now Digital, so to is a lot of Visual Art. Digital forms are essential for most of us to view the stuff, but significant Art is now created using digital tools. Much of Art is about sampling society. The visual images of our society are becoming predominately digital I hope that the next Duchamp doesn’t get mired in the copyright bog.

If you are building DRM applications, you have an obligation to ART and culture. It isn’t just about protecting the next computer game or boy band single.

Art has a role to play in society. Art is goodness. I would hate to see Artists not publishing their creations because of copyright fears. This would be the antithesis of why copyright exists, to provide economic incentives to publish. As Loren notes,

Article I, section 8, clause 8 of the United States Constitution provides that Congress shall have the power: “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

The US Supreme Court Court has recognized: “The immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an ‘author’s’ creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good.”

In the meantime though, if you know of of a good guide for Artists on copyright, please comment below.

As the Crash Test Dummies brilliantly said….

When I Go Out With Artists

When I go out with artists
They talk about language and the cubists and the dadaists
And I try to catch their meanings
And keep up with all the martinis
I don’t know which should be my favorite paintingsIf I could see, if I could see, if I could
See all the symbols, unlock what they mean
Maybe I could, maybe I could, maybe I
Could meet the artists, and get to know them personally

If I were David Byrne
I’d go to galleries and not be too concerned
Well I would have a cup of coffee
And I’d find my surroundings quite amusing and
People would ask me which were my favorite paintings

What if the artists ran the TV?
All the ads would be for fine scotch whiskey:
Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, the whole single malt family

The artists of the future
Will make up new things and different nomenclatures
And they’ll stand amongst their pictures
And they’ll sing and laugh and quote from scriptures and
When they go home they’ll dream of brilliant paintings

I hope so.
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4 thoughts on “Dada, IP and DRM…

  1. This is really interesting. I’d love to hear if you find anything. For musicians, this is important – for bloggers too. I think there is some strange language in myspace.com about who owns the music. There may be similar lanaguage on these “free” blogs – who actually “owns” the content? If you are really serious about ownership of your art (words, music, thoughts, etc), I think these are really worthy questions to ask. Thanks for bringing it up. Keep me posted if you find something. . .

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