Controlling Copyright

Controlling Copyright

As I wrote about in my previous post, I’m in the midst of a graduate degree program at Pratt Institute’s School of Information, which will provide me with the tools to work as a cataloger for an art library. My primary goal is to work with the art image collection at one of New York’s cultural institutions.

One of the subjects I’m focusing on is something that somewhat contradicts my artistic creative past: Rights Management. There are a few reasons why I chose to explore this subject, all of which have strong connections to the work I’ve done in the past and the artist network I connect myself to.

What is Rights Management? It sounds really dry, right? Maybe ten years ago, it would have been utterly boring to me, but now that the internet, and thus social networking, is changing the art paradigm, fuzzying the concepts of who owns what, it’s become quite a hot issue. It’s certainly a contentious one, but it’s also part of how our culture is changing: how we communicate, and even how we perceive our surroundings.

Basically, Rights Management manages the rights of intellectual property. In more colorful and simplistic terms, it helps keep people from stealing your shit. Part of it is related to Copyright Law, while it is also related to what artists and image users agree to when they interact with (e.g. post, publish, share, copy, etc.) digital images online.

My interest in it stems from the growth of infringement artists experience as they become popular online (see the main image on this post: comparisons between photos by Jason Levesque and the paintings Josephat Miranda created from those photos without Jason’s permission). Posting artwork online seems to be free, but in reality, once artwork is viewable by thousands, it’s also useable by thousands, many of whom don’t understand how their use of an image could either promote or damage its creator’s career. Along those same lines, many artists and their advocates don’t seem to understand the nuances of copyright law, and how artists can and cannot control how their work is used.

Right now, I’m happily in the midst of a summer break. I’m dreaming that I’ll be able to publish a few more posts on the subject on my blog, here, before I jump back into classes in September. At that point, I’ll be deep into learning about art librarianship and cataloging, spending much of my time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Watson Library and the Brooklyn Museum library, and won’t have much time for babbling over here. To understand this copyright stuff, I’ll need to talk about it. Hopefully I can use this blog to do just that.


  1. Hmm,.. When a musician as genius as Stevie Ray Vaughan for example makes a cover of a song like Little Wing , originally created by Jimi Hendrix, everyone is amazed about the fact that the cover sounds so much better than the original version of that song,.. Right? On the other hand when someone like Miranda turns someone eases still photo into something so much better looking , he is accused of stilling? Really?!? That makes no sense at all.. Photographers are simply retarded. Instead of enjoying the fact that someone made their work look so much better , they go like little girls crying for someone stilling their intellectual property. What ? Most photographers don’t even have a clue how the camera that they used actually works..Give me a break please .You are selfish bastards.

    • Hey Van – it’s complicated for sure. No creative work comes out of a void – it’s all inspired by someone or something. Some artists revel in this, while others deny it entirely.

      Miranda traced Levesque’s and Marie Killen’s photos, recolored the forms, added polkadots, and began selling them as his own without citing his sources. While he added his own creative input in the color (IMO, he improved on them), the composition is not his original work. While some of us might not like the original photos, a lot of work and knowledge went into their creation, including composition, lighting, makeup, costuming, coloring, post-processing, and more. Miranda could have collaborated with them, but he did not. Therein lies the problem.

      Miranda’s not the only artist who has misappropriated work like this. Just look at Richard Prince, or Shepard Fairey for some related dramatic copyright case law! But such actions have the potential to severely harm the original artist’s career, and diminish their efforts and talent. I think Levesque did the right thing, but I don’t think the response from his fans was intelligent. The Mob – those who came to Levesque and Marie Killen’s defense – attacked Miranda in overdramatic ways, causing him quite a lot of grief. Miranda apologized and destroyed the work. He and his career did not have to suffer.

      This all happened quite awhile ago – it looks like Miranda is back up and working, which is great. And if he’s still tracing other people’s works, hopefully he’s calling it what it is, and crediting his sources, or using public domain and properly licensed imagery.

      These days, we’re seeing a ton of mashup and appropriation art thrive in the art market. It’s a sign of our times, and may only become more prevalent in the arts. I think it’s important that the artists who practice this kind of work be conscious and open about their sources.

      There’s a whole field of study dedicated to this kind of thing: Visual Literacy. I think artists whose imagery is used in other works, and their fans, will still get very angry about such activity. But the potential for creative growth with such appropriation of other works is tremendous and wonderful. It cannot be ignored.

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