For all things thou art.

Notes on Copyright and Originality as given by Ross Bradley.

"I thought it might be useful to publish my notes from last month’s lecture by Ross Bradley concerning copyright and originality. Those who attended the meeting and listened to Ross Bradley found it extremely informative. The Society advertises our shows as original art works. As developing artists, we should keep these points in mind."

Margaret Klappstein

(Thank you very much Margaret for these wonderful notes!)

The talk was based on a Canadian based book by Leslie Ellen Harris on copyright. . Nearly all countries function under the Byrne Convention. Other books her referred to were: The Art World by Erin Milbrad. The Art Community and the Law by Stephen B. Smart .

What can be copyrighted?

  • Every “original” production whatever may be the mode or form of production.
  • Copyright is lifetime plus 50 years except in photography where it is 50 years from the time the photograph is created.
  • Copyright is yours unless you turn it over to someone else.
  • Selling it does not void copyright.
  • Copyright should be negotiated apart from the sale of the work.
  • Do not sign over copyright lightly.
  • When negotiating copyright negotiate as limited a copyright as possible. (Limited time, Limited number) Be very specific.
  • Keep control over how copyright is used.

With copyright there are 3 major components.

  1. Financial.
  2. Moral rights. Only you or your heirs can exercise moral rights on your work. (shown or reproduced in some way that is detrimental to your reputation as an artist.
  3. Exhibition rights. If your work is being exhibited in a public situation, you should be compensated. (This has to do with installation art and large traveling exhibits). It does not cover commercial situations.

What do we mean by original?

To be an original work, the work has to have the following.

  1. Originate with the author (artist)
  2. Not be a copy of another work
  3. Fruit of an independent creative effort rather than a mechanic or automatic arrangement.
  4. Author (artist) must use skill, experience, labour, taste, discretion, selection, judgment, personal effort, knowledge, ability and reflection.

Having said all this, there are grey areas. Traditionally, artists have learned their craft by copying from the Masters. However there is a line that is drawn between what you do as a student and what you do as a professional artist. Things created during “workshops” would not be considered “your” original work. Picasso did variations of Valsaquez’s Maids of the Lake, which was in no way an attempt to reproduce the work so were considered original.. You cannot copyright an idea, it must be in concrete form.

Photographs & copyright.

If it is your own photograph, you have the copyright. If it is not you must get written permission from the person who owns the copyright of the picture in producing a work of art. In public places, it is quite legal to take pictures without the person’s permission except in bars where it is illegal to take pictures.

N.B. On commissioned works, the commissioner holds the copyright to the work, unless you have made an agreement to maintain copyright control.

Questions often asked:

“If you change it in “X” number of ways is it an original? This is questionable. Recent landmark decisions in Eastern Canada in which a nun had become the recognizable symbol used by a particular artist and was used in a painting by another artist came down in favour of the original artist. A few significant changes will not necessarily change your infringement of copyright. There is some leeway when newspaper photographs are to be used to explore social, political images and ideas. Then , these can be used as a source of information.

Design by Edwin Wityshyn