Shepard Fairey pre-emptively filed a lawsuit last week asking a federal judge to rule that he is protected from copyright infringement claims when he appropriated the AP's image of Obama as a base for his reiteration in the Obama Poster. I wrote about the controversy over Fairey's Obama Poster art appropriation and the AP photo issue earlier.
When an image is appropriated, transformed and altered and a different artwork is created, this is a remix which is a murky area now that digital images can so easily be captured and worked with. The lawsuit scuffle over ownership of art and copyright and appropriation and re-use is a murky one and with the popularity of the Obama Poster image, the issue has attracted more national attention than with other artwork remix examples. What will probably help Fairey win, at least in this case, is that the AP photographer that took the case, (Manny?) Garcia, claims that his contract with AP gives him the copyright ownership.
Stolen Tangible Art
You can take the idea of art, ideas and ownership back to the idea of stolen artworks (think of the Elgin Marbles, taken from Greece by Lord Elgin and now in the British Museum), which is in the hot area of the ownership of artworks and repatriation. For example, it struck me that the same week Fairey fought the issue of ownership of artwork, a court ruled in favor of ownership of art stolen in the Holocaust.
Digital Art and Remixes
Artworks can be copied and reworked so easily, digitally. Fairey's poster has generated dozens of knock-offs and spoofs, such as those above. These are just more examples of iconic images, art, appropriation, remixes and digital copyright enforcement difficulties. Shepard Fairey and another appropriation artist Rick Klotz are remix entrepreneurs, building off of the ideas of others. A Dark Knight fan mashed Heath Ledger's Joker into Fairey's Obama Poster and called the new image "The Audacity of Joke", which is the top left in the series of Obama Poster imitations above.
Charis Tsevis, a visual designer living and working at Athens, Greece, has used copyrighted photos from Norwegian photo agencies to create his own mosaic of Britney Spears (click here for the large version and note how he has established his creative commons copyright on top of the work of others, allowing people to use his new remix for non commercial purposes). He has also taken various photos of Obama supporters and turned them into his own art mosaic, but in that case he is not using copyrighted photos.
Tangible Art Versus Intangible Art...
The Elgin marbles, like Greek vases and other antiquities, can be physically returned to owners or countries that can prove provenance. But the copying of artworks has been going on forever, whether they are copied or forged, or the ideas incorporated in altered versions. But unless you can prove ownership of the original negative, proving ownership of work in the area of digital remixes is a murky, murky area.
To be continued: I have more to say on this on the 19th in a post called The Semiotics of Cultural Ownership and Treasures.