Tuesday 20 September 2011

"Modern masters" and style

"Modern masters under threat" is the title of a short, readable piece just published in issue 4 of the 2011 volume of WIPO Magazine. This unattributed article provides an easy-access introduction to frauds and forgeries for the uninitiated, also featuring the Annette Giacometti Prize for the Rights of Art and Artists.

With acknowledgement to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the article reproduces the following brief definitions:
What is a fake?
… an object that has been tampered with – e.g. a signature has been added or false indications of the object’s history have been introduced with the intention to defraud and increase the item’s value.

What is a copy?
… a direct replica of a pre-existing work or a work that imitates or was created in the style of a given artist. If the work is in the public domain, it is not illegal to make a copy of it provided there is no attempt to deceive or make anyone believe it is an original work. To reproduce a contemporary work protected under copyright law requires the permission of the artist whose work is being copied.

What is misattribution?
… this arises when a mistake is made in determining the original artist of a work and typically occurs when works have been restored and original details masked. This is considered a genuine mistake as there is no intention to deceive.

What is a forgery?
… an object that is created from scratch with the intention to deceive – it is a fraudulent imitation of an existing work.

What is fraud?
… “the act of making people believe something is not what it really is for criminal benefit".
These definitions should come with a caveat that, while they are handy when discussing protection and enforcement issues with clients, the words are not cast-iron terms of art that are understood in all jurisdictions as having the same meaning. In particular, the notion that a work in the style of a particular artist is a "copy" is a controversial and dangerous one.  The courts in England and Wales have held, in Gordon Fraser Gallery Limited v Tatt [1966] RPC 505, that there is no copyright in a style. While the adoption of a specific style, in combination with other factors, may constitute a misrepresentation or a fraud, it is not a copyright infringement. If the contrary had been the case, the world would have enjoyed the paintings of rather fewer impressionists and cubists.

You can read "Modern masters under threat" in full here.

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