Artsy Fartsy
October 10, 2002
'Illegal Art' Exhibit Demonstrates The Impact of Copyright On Creativity

Some of the greatest artistic phenomena in the world (like jazz) would never have been allowed to be created if today's copyright laws had been in existence back then.

What an excellent, timely art exhibit.

Thanks to Kendra Mayfield for writing such a great story for Wired News about it:
Art: What's Original, Anyway?

If current copyright laws had been on the books when jazz musicians were borrowing riffs from other artists in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators were creating cartoons in the 1940s, entire art genres such as hip-hop, collage and Pop Art might never have existed...

To acknowledge this landmark case, an exhibit will celebrate "degenerate art" in a corporate age: art and ideas on the fringes of intellectual property law.

The exhibit, Illegal Art: Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Age, will take place in New York from Nov. 13 to Dec. 6 and in Chicago from Jan. 25 to Feb. 22.

"Almost all art, to a certain extent, is unoriginal," said Carrie McLaren, publisher of Stay Free! magazine and organizer of the exhibit. "(In) an environment where you can have free exchange of ideas, you get better art."

Here's the full text of the article in case the link goes bad:

http://r.hotwired.com/r/wn_html_link/http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,55592,00.html

Art: What's Original, Anyway?
By Kendra Mayfield
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Notmickey (Pen, paper, and photocopies; 2002) The Symbolic Lotus of A Thousand Colonels Meet the Residents (LP Cover; 1974) In 1974, a mysterious band called the Residents released its first full-length LP with a cover that parodied Meet the Beatles. When rumors circulated that Capitol, the Beatles' record label, was threatening to sue, the band decided to repress the LP with new artwork. How Mao (Sewn U.S. currency; 2002) Mao is one of a series of 20th century masterpieces that Beldner recreated using U.S currency. Although Beldner has not been sued, he has been threatened by artists' estates for appropriating their work, most notably, Pablo Picasso's. This particular piece is based on Andy Warhol's silkscreen. American Alphabet (Installation; 2000) The letters shown here are from corporate logos. So far Cody has not had any legal troubles. Ad agencies have even purchased parts of the Alphabet.
Click thumbnails to expand Images from various sources

2:00 a.m. Oct. 10, 2002 PDT

If current copyright laws had been on the books when jazz musicians were borrowing riffs from other artists in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators were creating cartoons in the 1940s, entire art genres such as hip-hop, collage and Pop Art might never have existed.

The debate over whether artists can use copyrighted materials entered the national spotlight this week as the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in Eldred v. Ashcroft, a case in which plaintiffs are seeking to overturn the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act.

To acknowledge this landmark case, an exhibit will celebrate "degenerate art" in a corporate age: art and ideas on the fringes of intellectual property law.

The exhibit, Illegal Art: Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Age, will take place in New York from Nov. 13 to Dec. 6 and in Chicago from Jan. 25 to Feb. 22.

"Almost all art, to a certain extent, is unoriginal," said Carrie McLaren, publisher of Stay Free! magazine and organizer of the exhibit. "(In) an environment where you can have free exchange of ideas, you get better art."

The show will examine the intersection between intellectual property and the First Amendment. Some pieces have been the focus of court battles, while others have eluded copyright lawyers.

Digital rights activists argue that creativity is under assault with the recent passage of laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Current copyright laws discourage the creation of new works, McLaren said. For example, filmmakers typically screen anything that appears on camera for copyright violations.

"That effectively makes filmmaking off limits for anyone who's not a millionaire," McLaren said.

Some digital rights advocates believe that Eldred v. Ashcroft could shift the balance of power.

"The fact that the Supreme Court is taking this case is a major opportunity for this discussion," McLaren said. "It shows that the court is concerned about the First Amendment implications of copyright."

Timed with the exhibit's opening in November, a panel discussion at New York University will focus on some of the aspects of using and archiving artworks that appropriate copyrighted or trademarked material.

"Understanding the sociopolitical implications of the current copyright regime is of particular concern at this time," said Meg McLagan, an assistant professor of anthropology at NYU, "given the challenges posed by corporate attempts to limit access to works that should be moving into the public domain." McLagan is the panel's moderator.

Exhibit organizer McLaren hopes Illegal Art will "wake people up" to restrictive copyright legislation. "When people see this exhibit they won't want to support the laws that make this type of work illegal," she said.

The exhibit surveys a variety of mediums -- from collage to audio and film -- and includes pieces that flout intellectual property law by violating copyrights or infringing on trademarks.

The visual art exhibit, viewable online, features murdered Disney characters, a parody of the Starbucks logo and a painting of a lace doily that incorporates the Texaco logo.

The exhibit's site also highlights illegal films and videos that appropriate others' intellectual property through the use of found footage, unauthorized music, or shots of copyrighted or trademarked material.

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Art: What's Original, Anyway?
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(page 2)

Site visitors can also download illegal MP3s, including recycled lyrics from 2 Live Crew's parody of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman" and Vanilla Ice's 1990 hit "Ice Ice Baby," which borrowed the main riff from David Bowie and Queen's song "Under Pressure."

The site includes links to audio works by experimental music and art collective Negativland, longtime advocates of the concept of fair use since the group was forced to cease performing and distributing a parody of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" in 1995.

Since the early '90s, "these issues have become more and more mainstream," said Mark Hosler, one of Negativland's founding members.

Groups like Negativland have felt the repercussions of the digital copyright wars. In 1998, Negativland's CD manufacturer refused to press the band's latest album because of concerns over the inclusion of unlicensed samples.

"It really has impacted us very directly," Hosler said. "It seems like the content owners don't care any more about what we're doing. But in terms of getting (CDs with samples) manufactured, that's the problem."

A compilation CD of music featuring plundered hits by Negativland, Public Enemy, John Oswald and other artists will be given away free at Illegal Art events in New York and Chicago.

The free CD, which includes several tracks that were sued out of existence, could create some legal entanglements of its own.

But the exhibit's organizers insist that its material is fair game.

"Since we're criticizing and educating about this, we think it falls under fair use," McLaren said. "We wanted to have more discussion and debate about this. We're not just throwing this stuff out there."

Posted by Lisa at October 10, 2002 12:28 PM | TrackBack
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