Thursday 21 October 2010

The Turner Prize and copyright

Loves of Shepherds 2000
The Turner Prize, awarded each year in the United Kingdom since 1984, is intended to celebrate new developments in contemporary art. It should be awarded to "a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding". One thing I'm not sure about is the interplay, if any, between conventional copyright rules and unconventional art -- and a short inspection of the Turner Prize's further particulars did not throw any immediate light on the competition's copyright policy.

Double Star: artwork for the book cover
This is not an academic issue. In 2000 there was some controversy after it appeared that Turner Prize nominee Glenn Brown was accused of plagiarism after science fiction enthusiasts drew attention to the similarity of 'Loves of Shepherds 2000 (above, right) with the cover of 1970s classic Double Star, by Robert A. Heinlein (left). The Double Star cover was created by Anthony Robert, but no mention was made either of the book or the cover art in the Turner Prize catalogue.

The chairman of the Turner Prize jury, Sir Nicholas Serota, explained that Glenn Brown frequently used the work of other artists in developing his own work: "He uses other artists' work, but that doesn't mean to say you could possibly mistake his work for theirs... he takes the image, he transforms it, he gives it a completely different scale." One might ask whether, even if no-one could mistake Robert's work for Brown's, might one when seeing Brown's work mistake it for Robert's.

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