Copyright in Art … Part 2


Warhol Image

Artists mash-up images, text and audio all the time and have been doing so for many years. When is “appropriation” considered “transformative”?  If you use someone else’s image to create something, is the new work simply a copy of the original image, or is it transformed into a new original work of art? 

If it’s just a slavish copy, then you need consent of the owner of the original image. Without that consent, you might be infringing copyright.  If it’s transformative, then is the appropriation forgiven since it results in something new and original?

Consider the case of photographer Patrick Cariou and appropriation artist Richard Prince. Earlier this year, a US District Court sided with Cariou in his copyright claim against Prince, based on Prince’s use of Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarians. The court was clear that the scope of Prince’s copying was substantial compared with the “slight transformative value”. In other words, there was a whole lot of appropriation and not much transformation. As a result, the fair use defence didn’t hold up.

The next question is the obvious one: where is the line between the two?  Andy Warhol made a career out of appropriation. His works - which borrowed everything from Campbell’s soup cans to press photos of Jackie Kennedy - were the subject of numerous complaints and lawsuits, all of which reportedly settled out of court. Artist Jeff Koons has also made a successful career out of transformative works, though he has often fallen on the wrong side of court decisions. In the 2006 US Court of Appeals decision in Blanch v. Koons, Koons successfully raised a “fair use” defence. This claim arose from the use of an image of the plaintiff’s copyright-protected photograph in a Koons collage painting entitled “Easyfun-Ethereal”. The court considered this use to be highly transformative, where the original image was used as “raw material” for a completely different type of work.

Calgary – 07:00 MT

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. Richard Stobbe June 16th, 2011 10:13 am

    See: Copyright in Art (Part 1)

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