Sunday 31 August 2014

Copyright and technology: can you graphically illustrate the relationship? A competition

This blogger's friend and colleague Eleonora Rosati (right, as usual ...) is in action on 1 October 2014, where she is hosting a one-day Copyright and Technology conference in the London offices of ReedSmith LLP.  Registration details can be accessed on this post, which had the misfortune to be promulgated on a public holiday when all respectable IP enthusiasts were enjoying a day away from their screens, indulging in the pleasures that only a day off work can bring.  But what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with the concepts of art and artifice ...?

The explanation is not hard to find.  Eleonora has a complimentary ticket (worth £239) which she will be pleased to bestow upon the winner of a contest which is open solely to full-time students/trainees/apprentices, regardless of their age. This competition requires aspiring entrants to create an artistic work, eg a photograph or (if you find it easier) a work of architecture, that illustrates in the best and/or most humorous and/or saddest etc aspect of the relationship between copyright and technology.

Once you are happy with your "own intellectual creation", says Eleonora, you should email it to, but do so by Monday 8 September 11 pm GMT.

The best entries will be published on the IPKat weblog, so competitors are naturally asked to provide an irrevocable gratuitous and non-exclusive licence when submitting their work.

Friday 29 August 2014

Street Art: Not Just Up for Grabs

In a recent post Jeremy discussed the copyright infringement case brought against American Eagle Outfitters by street artist, AholSniffsGlue. The artist alleged that the clothing company placed models in front of the artist's murals and then used those photos to achieve a certain look in its summer ad campaign by prominently featuring the artist's work in its billboards, window displays, website, and social media. As many who have commented on this case noted, American Eagle made a particularly egregious use of the artist's work by featuring a photograph of a white, clean cut looking model standing in front of one of the artist's murals holding a can of spray paint, thus implying that the mural was created by the model and not by the Cuban-American artist.

On the heels of this case comes two cases filed on August 19, 2014 by renowned artist, Maya Hayuk, regarding unauthorized reproduction of her mural, Chem Trails NYC, a painting which was located on the Bowery Mural Wall, a well-known, curated outdoor exhibition space in New York City. One case was brought against singer Sara Bareilles, as well as her record company, its parent company, and her publicity and promotion companies.  The second lawsuit is against fashion giant, Coach. The cases were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (cause numbers 14-cv-06668-VEC and 14-cv-06659-LAK).

The complaint against Coach is not yet available, but according to the complaint against Bareilles, Hayuk painted the mural in the NYC location in February 2014 and also registered the copyright in the work at that time.  (A savvy move, as U.S. law requires timely copyright registration to qualify for statutory damages and a plaintiff must have a copyright registration to file a lawsuit for infringement.)  The artist alleges that Bareilles and the other defendants used her mural, without permission, in the promotion of Bareilles and her upcoming "Little Black Dress" tour. Images in Hayuk's complaint show Bareilles, a small figure in a black dress, posed in front of the mural, and show that such images were used extensively to the promote the singer, and used in her online and social media promotion. Hayuk seeks preliminary and permanent injunction against Bareilles's continued use of her painting as well as damages in either the form of statutory damages (up to $150,000 against each defendant) or an award of profits attributable to the infringement, as well as attorney fees.

It is, at least in my opinion, alarming that large companies with ample legal resources have (allegedly) approached the work of these artists with such recklessness, (allegedly) commercially exploiting these paintings without permission to achieve a certain look in ad campaigns. Perhaps these lawsuits will serve as a cautionary tale that publicly situated murals are not just up for grabs.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Comic art, creativity and the law: a new title

Comic Art, Creativity And The Law, by Marc H. Greenberg (Professor of Law, Golden Gate University School of Law, US), has been recently published by Anglo-American publishing house Edward Elgar as part of its ever-increasing IP list, as part of its Law and Entrepreneurship series. According to the publisher:
The characters and stories found in comic art play a dominant role in contemporary popular culture throughout the world. In this first-of-its-kind work, Comic Art, Creativity and the Law examines how law and legal doctrine shapes the creative process as applied to comic art.

The book examines the impact of contract law, copyright law (including termination rights, parody and ownership of characters), tax law and obscenity law has on the creative process. It considers how these laws enhance and constrain the process of creating comic art by examining the effect their often inconsistent and incoherent application has had on the lives of creators, retailers and readers of comic art. It uniquely explains the disparate results in two key comic book parody cases, the Winter Brothers case and the Air Pirates case, offering an explanation for the seemingly inconsistent results in those cases. Finally, it offers a detailed discussion and analysis of the history and operation of the ‘work for hire’ doctrine in copyright law and its effect on comic art creators.

Designed for academics, practitioners, students and fans of comic art, the book offers proposals for changes in those laws that constrain the creative process, as well as a glimpse into the future of comic art and the law.
This is an enjoyable and thoughtful book, part legal analysis, part history, part speculation and part personal reflection. The impact of the law on the fruits of creation is easier to assess than its impact on those aspects of creativity which it may deter or stifle, and the use of comic art as a powerful form of parody, satire or social comment keeps returning it to the point at which freedom of expression meets countervailing rights and interests -- but this book is neither repetitive nor preachy, even though Marc Greenberg never leaves it to his readers to guess his thoughts and feelings.

Apart from Justin Hughes' encomium, there is no mention of the words "United" and "States" in conjunction with one another and, though there is the occasional reference to some non-US issue, the text is unashamedly US focused, sparing just six pages towards the end for an acknowledgement of the Franco-Belgian and Japanese traditions.  This is not a crime, of course, but it would be appreciated if publishers were to flag single-jurisdictional works as being so, in order that readers and potential purchasers should not be encouraged to think of the work as having some sort of international significance.  For the past 20 years, entrepreneurship in fields like comic art and, dare one say it, creativity, has been looking increasingly to the internet for commercial routes to exploitation, and the internet is not coterminous with the borders of the United States. It is hoped that future editions of this worthwhile and enjoyable book will either be encouraged to spread their focus a little wider or will clearly indicate that they don't.

There's one final, trivial quibble: the illustration on the publisher's website, reproduced above, creates the impression that this book is thicker than it actually is. Following xix pages of preliminaries, the text -- inclusive of the index -- totals just 199 pages.

Bibliographic data: hardback ISBN 978 1 78195 492 8; ebook ISBN 978 1 78195 493 5. Hardback price£70 (online from the publisher, £63). Web page here.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

The Eagle swoops, the Eye Droops: graffiti goes to court

"Graffiti copyright battles pitch artists against advertisers" is the title of a fascinating piece by this blogger's friend Enrico Bonadio (Senior Lecturer in Law, City University, London), where he teaches Intellectual Property Law and EU Law. Enrico's piece reads as follows, in relevant part (minus links):
" ... A legal row between Miami-based street artist Ahol Sniffs Glue (“Ahol” – or David Anasagasti to his mother) and the clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters is the latest instance of a growing number of spats. The artist recently sued for copyright infringement in a US federal court after American Eagle began using his work in their promotional material.

Ahol is known for his signature “droopy eyes”, variants of which appear all over Miami. Earlier this year, when looking to support its spring collection advertising with an eye-catching urban touch, American Eagle started using Ahol’s artwork. Droopy eyes popped up on its web adverts, billboards and in-store displays worldwide as well as on Instagram, YouTube and in storefronts across the world. At an opening in Colombia, the store even allegedly hired local street artists to recreate Ahol’s original, complete with American Eagle logo.

One of the images the multinational company used on its billboards depicts a male model wearing American Eagle clothes while standing in front of a legal mural by Ahol named Ocean Grown, after a gallery that commissioned and hosts the work. In the most brazen touch of all, the model carries a spray paint can. Clearly the advertising is not just looking to appropriate the visual effect of the nice background; it’s attempting to grab some of street art’s illicit cool by implying the model had painted the work himself.

Paintings on walls are no different from other artistic works – and they therefore satisfy the requirements for copyright protection, including originality. This it particularly true of legal graffiti works such as the ones created by Ahol in Miami and (mis)appropriated by American Eagle. It would make no sense to deny copyright protection to works that have been legally commissioned.

But still, even illegal graffiti deserves copyright protection. Possible wrongdoings committed by street artists (trespass, vandalism and so on) concern the process through which the works are done: painting on a wall or train, for instance, without the authorisation of the property owner. ...

Street artists thus might find in copyright law an ally, a friend that can help them in giving added value to their works and reacting to “art stealers” and (why not?) making money out of their job, and their passion".
Copyright should be the ally of every artist, and the fact that the graffiti constitutes a criminal act of vandalism or unlawful interference with property should not affect that.  But there is a sense in which unauthorised and uncommissioned graffiti is somehow "public" property too. One can understand why the owner of the wall or other medium (train, truck or whatever) might feel entitled to indulge in some exploitation of a work, commercial or otherwise, if it has been foist upon him against his will -- but why should a third party such as the proprietor of a garment brand be so entitled?

Thanks are due to Chris Torrero for supplying the relevant link.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

New York art dealer denied tax relief over Beltracchi fake

In 2011, the notorious forger Wolfgang Beltracchi was sentenced to six years in prison for creating and selling “unknown” works, supposedly by various master artists, to unsuspecting art dealers.

One of these dealers was New York based Richard Feigen. The New York Law Journal (NYLJ) reports that in 2004 Feigen sold a painting which he believed was by the Surrealist painter Max Ernst for US$2.5 million. Having sold the piece, the dealer then duly paid sales tax of US$215,625 to the tax authorities.

One of Beltracchi's fake Max Ernst paintings
When the Beltracchi scandal broke and Feigen found that the Ernst was a skilful fake, he bought the painting back from its new owner at the same price for which he had sold it. In turn, the French gallery from which Feigen had bought the painting gave the dealer back the same sum he himself had paid.

However, this still left Feigen short of the US$215,625 sales tax that he had paid in respect of the aborted sale of the Ernst. So in June 2011, following Beltracchi’s trial, Feigen applied for a credit against, or refund of, that sum.

Unfortunately for the dealer, such refunds are permitted only within a three year window and that window had expired, at the latest, in early 2008. “Public policy does not favour the granting of refunds beyond the allowed period of time,” the tax authorities stated. “Anything less than this degree of certainty would make the financial operation of government difficult, if not impossible.”

It is entirely understandable that such limits should be applied in the majority of cases. But in a case where the taxpayer himself was subject to fraud and took prompt steps to correct his tax position once that fraud became apparent, the result appears harsh. 

“I can’t imagine that New York would want to collect a sales tax on a sale that was cancelled,” the NYLJ reports Feigen saying. “I can’t imagine how they can justify collecting tax on a non-sale.”

Given the scale of the art market in New York, this ruling could raise the suggestion that when buying art work the seller be contractually placed on risk for any resulting sales tax as well as for the value of the work itself, in the event that the work is not what it seems.

Read more here.  

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Arts Council England strips museums of their Accreditation

The Arts Council England (ACE), through its Accreditation Scheme, sets nationally agreed standards for museums in the UK.

According to the ACE:
"Accreditation is the UK standard for museums and galleries. It defines good practice and identifies agreed standards, thereby encouraging development. It is a baseline quality standard that helps guide museums to be the best they can be, for current and future users." 
"Accreditation enables museums and governing bodies to assess their current performance, and it supports them in planning and developing their services." 
Unfortunately for two local museums, it seems that they were not up to standard. At the beginning of this month, the ACE stripped both the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and the Abington Park Museum of their Accreditation

The Museums Association Journal explains:
Arts Council England (ACE) announced today that it has stripped Northampton Museums Service of Accreditation following the disposal of the ancient Egyptian statue Sekhemka.
Northampton Borough Council controversially sold the statue for £15.8m at auction last month and will take home £8m of the proceeds. The remaining share will go to Lord Northampton, whose ancestors donated the statue to the museum. 
Following a hearing last week, the arts council’s Accreditation panel found that the process leading up to the sale and the sale itself were in contravention of the Accreditation standard.
In a statement today, the arts council said: “As a result of this non-compliance the two museums managed by Northampton Borough Council, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and Abington Park Museum, have been removed from the Accreditation scheme, effective as of 1 August 2014, and excluded from future participation for a minimum period of five years, until at least August 2019.” 
It is reported that the museums were warned that sale of the statue could lead to them losing their Accreditation status. There were also protests outside Christie's prior to the sale calling for the statue to be returned to Egypt if the Council did not want it. Nevertheless, they went ahead and sold it.

The loss of the ACE Accreditation is likely to affect the museums' ability to apply for future grants and funding. It remains to be seen whether it was worth it.

Source: The Museums Association, 1 August 2014, BBC News 1 August 2014

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Artist's Estate Sues Chelsea Hotel

The famous Chelsea Hotel in New York has been a setting for many a scandal. The last few years have seen comparatively milder wranglings over the artworks that used to hang in the hotel, prior to its sale in 2011.

The most recent case to be filed is a claim by the Larry Rivers Foundation (representing late American artist Larry Rivers) against the new owners of the Chelsea Hotel seeking recovery of a Rivers' painting that, the Foundation alleges, was loaned to the hotel for exhibition purposes only.

The Courthouse News Service provides further details.
Rivers [had previously] loaned another work in its series, De Kooning's Father: Portrait of Arshile Gorky," to the hotel, which hung prominently in its lobby before being sold to a third party, according to the complaint.
The foundation claims that Rivers loaned, but never intended to donate, "Dutch Masters" to replace that work. " 
After Dutch Masters was installed at the Chelsea Hotel, managers of the Chelsea Hotel asked Larry Rivers to donate Dutch Masters to the Chelsea Hotel and Larry Rivers refused that request," the complaint states. 
After Rivers died in 2002, his foundation received the title to "Dutch Masters."
It was not, however, until the hotel was sold that the Foundation asserted ownership and tried to recover the painting. After several years with no success, the Foundation was left with little option but to bring this recent claim seeking return of the painting and at least $250,000 in damages for conversion and unjust enrichment.

Considering some of the stories surrounding other paintings which went missing at the same time, success in the claim might not necessarily mean recovery of the painting. But let's hope that this piece was not just thrown in the bin.

Source: Courthouse News Service, 31 July 2014

Monday 4 August 2014

No copyright on milk crate?

On his Facebook page, the Melbourne artist Jarred Kennedy recently claimed that Hany Armanious' new artwork - a giant milk crate - looks similar to his sculpture, the 2005 McClelland Sculpture Prize entry.

Kennedy's post on his Facebook page

Last Wednesday, three public artworks were revealed by Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, including Hany Armanious' giant 13.7 metre high milk crate 'Pavilion', which the Sydney council decided to install in Belmore Park, near Central Station.

Armanious, whose giant crate is accused of infringing the copyright in Kennedy's work, is one of Sydney's most respected contemporary sculptors and a globally recognised talent. When Armanious submitted 'Pavilion' for review by Sydney's City Centre Public Art Evaluation Panel, it garnered praise from panel member Lisa Havilah, director of Carriageworks. She said that "Sydney is full of milk crates and there was something wonderfully irreverent about making one 40 times larger that people can enjoy in a park".

Kennedy sent a letter to the City of Sydney and to Amarnious with reference to the alleged copyright infringement. The City of Sydney responded with the statement that a copyright infringement needs some act of copying and Kennedy will have to prove that Armanious had previously seen his milk crate.

While the question of whether Armanious' blue milk crate does infringe upon Kennedy's intellectual property rights remains to be answered, this episode leads to the question of the extent to which the law will protect artistic originality. Adaptation and appropriation of previous works by artists have become increasingly accepted by the artistic community, as we saw already in some posts here and here, for instance, in the Cariou v Prince case.

Where do we draw the line between inspiration and imitation?