Wednesday 04th November 2015
Copyright is one of the stickiest parts of the creative arts. It causes more problems and lawsuits than anything else, and with good reason. Nothing is more frustrating that pouring your heart and soul into a piece only to have someone show up out of the blue and steal the whole thing, lock stock and barrel. Think about Richard Price's use of others Instagram photos to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, for just one example. With that in mind, copyright is one of the most valuable things we own, but like many legal powers, it can be both a blessing and a curse.
In a rather shockingly ironic display of legal zealousness, the estate of George Orwell, world-famous author of the novel 1984 (among many others) has attempted to assert a copyright claim over the number '1984'. Stop and let that sink in for a second. The irony is palpable, especially when you consider that the supposed infraction was a t-shirt design that bore the slogan '1984 is already here'. The claim is that this is a quote from the book, but clearly it is not. "This is blatant abuse of the copyright system and more off it’s a ridiculous attempt to control something that needs no control," said Josh Hadley, the creator of the shirts and the defendant named in the lawsuit.
The implications are huge, of course. While this particular case is in regards to a string of characters from a novel, if a precedent was established that this kind of usage constitutes infringement, the entire art world could be affected. Imagine that you're working on an abstract painting, and you're using a palette of monochromatic reds. You manage to mix up a bright red that you absolutely love, and use it throughout the piece, only to find out later that you've managed to reproduce the famous red from the world's most iconic soft drink. Suddenly, you can't sell prints of the piece anymore because it violates their copyright on that particular colour!
This is an extreme example, of course, but it still highlights the potential dangers of an overzealous copyright protection system. It should be used to protect real abuses of copyrighted material, not simply those who can afford an incredible number of lawyers and their fees.
Posted on November 04th 2015 on 11:10pm