Right To Copy

[Originally posted to devaintArt Feb 11, 2007]

As digital artists we are faced with the questions and concerns of digital copyright every single time  we post to the web.  Visit any social site where art is commonly posted and you will find ongoing  discussions ranging on everything from steps you can take to protect your work, sharing information on known violators, what you can do when you find your work has been copied, what constitutes fair use of your or other’s work, to sometimes even whether  you are giving up your rights simply by posting to the site.  Fortunately on many popular sites like deviantArt, Flickr, and MySpace, your rights are fully preserved (although deviantArt and Flickr both provide the option of choosing a less restrictive Creative Commons license).

It is that latter spirit, the Creative Commons notion that “Creativity and innovation rely on a rich  heritage of prior intellectual endeavor”, in which I ask you to consider a story that challenges the  very notions of copyright and plagiarism.  

“[Copyright] is taken as a law, both in the sense of a universally recognizable moral absolute,  like the law against murder, and as naturally inherent in our world, like the law of gravity. In fact,  it is  neither. Rather, copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised,  and  imperfect in its every incarnation.” – Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence” http://harpers.org/TheEcstasyOfInfluence.html,  Harper’s  Magazine Features

 Lethem’s piece is an exploration of the vital role that “plagiarism” has had on art, and the dangers that  the ever increasing stranglehold of copyright law present to creativity and culture.  Much of what he provides as examples lean more toward the fair use end of the spectrum than on outright duplication, however even in that nebulous realm of cut-ups and mash-ups he examines the strangleholds that large corporations and organizations are exerting on the creative and cultural heritage which underlie nearly every aspect of modern culture.  He presents the notion that all art is a gift to future art, and ultimately argues that all art is drawn from and built upon things which have come before.  He does not suggest that we should give up the rights to our works, but asks us to reconsider how far those rights should really extend.

Hard Line

Something of an unfocused rant.

[Originally published Jan 14, 2005 on deviantArt]

Where do you draw the line on images which are clearly not the poster’s work?

Simply re-posting a picture and claiming it as your own is clearly a violation and reprehensible to boot.  What about poets who use images, which often were the inspiration?  What about the photo-manipulator who takes a copyrighted image and twists it?  Does the ‘10% rule’ apply?  What about the bastard child of photo-manip, the wallpaper ‘artists’ who throw a 1024×768 border around a magazine scan?  Do you really think that makes it your own?  Do you think that it excuses the use of a copyrighted image?

I’ve gotten sensitive to this issue since joining deviantArt.  I know I’ve reported violations for images that I later realized were in the public domain, but I’ve also not reported images I was *sure* were copyrighted but could not prove.  What makes it even harder is that there are some professional artists who post here, artists who’s work I’ve seen dumped en masse into the newsgroups.  I don’t know what the admins do with violations;  I have been notified when action was taken on harassment and inappropriate sexual imagery reports, but never on a copyright report – neither for or against my case.  Not that I want or need the knowledge.  I trust instead that they make the appropriate judgement and act accordingly.

I don’t want to be a copyright Nazi, but I get offended by people who put in little or no work and claim creative genius.  I’ve borrowed work from the site to practice coloring or digital darkroom techniques, but I would never dream of re-posting those things.  It’s practice, not art.

For similar reasons, I have pretty demanding standards for photo-manipulation and wallpaper work.  I expect to see your work clearly, to the point where it obscures the original image.  If you’re gonna do that work, then actually work at it; put in something original and make it your own.