Some argue that the current generation of creatives, because they have always lived with technology, when it comes to their attitude towards copying: they haven’t got one. From a practical or ethical standpoint, they don’t see copying as problematic (Garnett, 2013). However on the other side of the argument, the older generations feel too sentimental about what they loose with technology, that they cannot see the beauty and creative potential ingrained in technologies. This generational clash may be the reason why issues of copyright, particularly when it comes to technology, are so heated and unrelenting
The issue of copyright is neither black and white, nor is it objective. I’m 5 years older than Google, so as I write this, I am aware that I come from a background that is more or less native to the current technologies. But it’s too easy to dismiss someone’s opinion once knowing the full extent of their youth, so hear me out: I grew up with ‘snail mail,’ I didn’t have a computer in my house until I was 12, or a mobile phone until I was 15, I played in the garden, ate slugs, I went on ‘jungle book’ adventures, I loved spot the dog books (and I only now, as I write this, understand the double meaning of that title), I used encyclopedias to write school reports that were hand written, badly drawn and collaged on A2 card, I was an analogue child that had to learn, as well as the ‘adults’ how to navigate new technologies, they were introduced to me, it was never inherent. So when I talk about technologies, I have a rounded idea of the full extent of these technologies, their applications and their implications.
Copyright and creativity have a long-lived history; people have this Romanic idea of the artist being an isolated eccentric character dedicated to their vocation. 17th Century painter Anthony Van Dyke prodigy of Peter Paul Rubens assumed the exact same technique and aesthetic of his teacher. Egon Schiele surpassed his teacher Gustav Klimt, picking and choosing like a buffet the techniques of his mentor. Bridget Riley, ‘Op Arts mother’, had multiple assistants and hardly ever worked on her own pieces. Issues of authorship, appropriation, copyright and legitimacy have existed as long as people have been making things. Recently there has been a sort of historical amnesia where we are led to believe that these are new issues brought on by new technologies.
It is true however that new technologies have blurred the lines of authorship and ownership. As the medium of accessing and gathering information changed, our perception of information changed (Garnett, 2013). Participatory reblogs like Tumblr, photo-sharing sites like Flickr and deviantArt, and all manner of social media as I will demonstrate later, has perhaps predisposed the ethos of the new generation of creatives and their practice of ⌘+C ⌘+V, dragging and dropping onto our cluttered desktop. Art today has seen a decline in studio-based art and an upsurge of research and theory, in many ways the internet has become its own medium, allowing new possibilities to recontextualize, to copy, repurpose and to share.
Historically, artists have referenced, appropriated, and quoted from the world around them as well as from other artists in order to produce new meanings and contexts (Garnett, 2013). We are all appropriating artists, if we didn’t reference the past, it would be like having a conversation with a completely new, unknown language. We use culturally understood symbols and references to establish new meanings, from oil painting to fashion, all require some form of copying, but has come to be seen in a negative light; the harsh light of online reality.
It would be difficult to find a creative that doesn’t freely admit to taking inspiration or influence from other artists, because when it comes to visual communication, one needs to have all the information before they can start to have their own dialogue. But sometimes it’s hard to see when the lines blur. We already have copyright law in place, but with creative works in particular, it really needs to be judged case by case, which is what spawned the ‘Fair Use’ policy, which judges the appropriating work based on whether it has been ‘transformed’ enough, into something new and different (Robertson, 2013). The implications of the appropriated work is also assessed, if the value of the work has not decreased both ethically and monetarily, then the appropriator will usually be found to be not guilty.
Last year I personally came in contact with the ethical dilemmas of authorship and appropriation. A new friend I had made at Uni added me on Facebook, during a routine Facebook stalk I saw that he was passing of artwork, with a strong likeness to another Artist friend of mine, as his own, even worse he was submitting the works in class for assessment. At that point I had no personal alliance to either of the artists, nor could I be 100% certain who was the original creator of the works. It took me a few days to do anything with the information, but I eventually decided that if it were my work I would want to know and set things right. I helped the appropriated artist gather the material needed to put a case together to present to the head of Arts and the appropriator was faced with the consequences. (See below for images)
After that incident one would assume I would be against infringement of copyright. But issues of legitimacy are never black and white. Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman created as series of paintings entitled ‘If Hitler had been a hippy how happy would we be’ the series consisted of the two artists painting rainbows and smiley faces on top of the original watercolours of Adolf Hitler (Whitecube, 2008), a body of work I cannot ethically fault.
I can see both sides of the issue, as a creator who wouldn’t like their own work to be appropriated or used out of context and one who creates in a world saturated by imagery, imagery that often demands further exploration. Anti-copying propaganda tries to snuff new forms of Creativity, but navigated thoughtfully and ethically, ‘infringing’ on copyright can be a good thing.
Garnett, J. (2013, Oct 8). They are the World. Retrieved from Art21: http://blog.art21.org/2013/10/08/they-are-the-world/#.U2Xo1SjEPdk
McIntyre, P. (2011). Issues fro Media Practice. In Creativity and Cultural Production (pp. 176-177). Palgrave Macmillan.
Robertson, A. (2013, April). A legal victory for ‘appropriation art’ expands when artists can remix each others’ work . Retrieved May 2014, from The Verge: http://www.theverge.com/2013/4/29/4282168/appropriation-artist-richard-prince-wins-copyright-fair-use-appeal
Whitecube. (2008). exhibitions 2008. Retrieved 2014, from White Cube: http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/jake_dinos_chapman_if_hitler_had_been_a_hippy_how_happy_would_we_be_masons_yard_2008