Friday, May 11, 2012

True Story

This is my understanding. 

Artist A makes a piece of work.

Artist B lends own artwork to Artists A to have said artwork photographed by a professional photographer; let's call one of these photos Photograph C.

The artwork is shown in a group exhibition by Organization D. Photograph C is "loaned" to local Newspaper E, (owned by Media Company F,) and goes on Organization D's website.

Three years passes.

Artist G makes artworks and exhibits at Gallery H. Artist G is interviewed and artworks photographed by local Newspaper I's Staff J, (and a photographer?). Staff J's article appears and all is good.

Newspaper I's Staff K, however, compiles events/calendars section, and dips into Media Company F's pool of photographs and picks Photograph C to decorate the notice for Artist G's exhibition; Artist B uses the same techniques as Artist G.

Tiny hell breaks loose; there are at least five more peripheral players who know almost all other players to a certain degree; said events/calendars may have appeared online only for one week only, (it's gone now); the copyrights of the photograph is murky, as is Media Company F's policies. You can imagine it all happened in a very small place.

Artist B, perhaps ill-advised, protested to Gallery H instead of/at the same time as Newspaper I. Gallery H, most astonishingly, was unaware of the misleading photograph in the events/calendars section concerning their exhibition, and did not inquire/protest to Newspaper I.

Staff K unapologetically explained picking Photograph C from Media Company F's files. The two Newspapers do not, to my knowledge/experience, explain to interviewees and all concerned all photos are free-for-all within the larger Media Company F. Sometimes they don't discuss copyrights at all. Not sure if Staff K even checked with Staff J if there were photos from the exhibition.

So what did I learn from this?

A) Know my rights, study copyrights, and if someone wants to use my photos, discuss the extent of what I'm allowing. (I find this very hard, but Ben does it well with all his photos.) I don't mean I want to hold on to all my photos in all instances with an iron fist, but to consider various possibilities and decide/know where I stand in the first instance, how far I will allow others to go. With me, usually a heads-up before the event covers most instances, but this is thin ice. 

B) Clarify my thoughts, and clarify understanding/agreements if other parties are involved.

C) Do everything I can to prevent whatever is beyond what I can allow; learn technology/computerese if need be.

D) In the end, don't be surprised to find anything anywhere and don't be afraid to ask/protest.

Attitudes towards copyrights in New Zealand is alarmingly relaxed, both by the pinchers and the pinchees; I didn't even like the term "pinch" used to lighten the impact of what is in some cases theft.

The above case was made worse by two distinct views on copyrights from different backgrounds. I feel sick at how not alarmed some involved are; Ben and I worked for IBM so you can imagine where we stand, but by the same token, understand once something is on the Internet, anything goes, including a "proper" media company with a public publication (!).

The story ends with Artist B ringing Gallery H to explain the situation, in addition to communicating with one of the artist exhibiting at Gallery H. And pointing out to Staff K it is very slack journalism and to mark Photograph C as something akin to "not for general use".

What are your thoughts?

By the way, Interweave has a free Copyright 101 for Weavers.


  1. The photographer usually hold copyright to own photograph, It is separate from the copyright from actual art work itself. This is generally and usually photographer will issue licence agreement for work done stating where copyright is resist and allowed usage of photograph (i.e. or web only, printed for publication, where that publication can be distributed and so on). If this is not signed as contract with whoever contracted the photographer that will lead quit bit of mess.

    On the contrary, if the photographer is employed by company and worked solely for them in their paid time and the contract is said the copyright of work (photograph) taken by work time is belong to company (if the staff taken photograph, it is likely the copyright is belong to the company) and this company can use that photograph in anyway without obligation.
    If the original artist, who made the art work and not photograph, want the copyright of the photograph too, artist has only two choices.

    1) Make a clear contract with photographer to give up his/companies copyrights – I think this is very difficult or expensive. Oh artist could purchase absolute exclusive licence from photographer which is quite bit of fortune usually.
    2) Take the photo by yourself and be owner of the copyrights.

    End of the day, what type of licence was granted from photographer local newspaper is the key. It could be slack management or a=understanding of newspaper (or parent company) to make the photograph available or use for other purpose if that was. BTW, it could be complexly legal within the allowed usage agreed at first place. That is also the possibility. Again The original Artist cannot say anything about it because the artist does not hold the copyright of photograph even hold copyright of art work. (It is similar to wedding photograph contract here.)

  2. Can't believe I read through this, but the first problem is we don't know who owns the rights, and second we don't know what the agreements were, but still, as a maker, I don't know what I'd do if I saw a photo of my work used to promote an unrelated exhibition. And if I were taking part in an exhibition, I'd be annoyed if the pressed used someone else's photo to promote the exhibition, and further, if the Gallery weren't aware of it.

  3. In the old days of professional photographers producing their own prints when I worked in marketing/PR (20 years ago!)the prints would have a label stuck on the back stating copyright and restrictions for use.

    I agree with the above comment - the professional photographers I worked with retained copyright, but of course you own the rights in design / copyright of an original piece of weaving.

    When things go this badly wrong, I think the first thing to consider, given that mistakes have been made, is what would you like to see done to put them right - an apology, maybe in the form of a note included (or stuck to) every item where the photo is reproduced? payment for use of the image? a feature in the newspaper in recompense? or are you simply interested in finding ways of preventing this happening again?

    The Interweave publication is very limited by the way, it does not cover licensing and assignment of rights, and it is entirely about copyright in the USA - doesn't mention the Berne Convention.

  4. Thanks for your considered comment, Dot. I don't know what I'd do if something as complicated as this happened to me. But I think we all need to be ready.

  5. Re. the Interweave publication, I didn't learn anything new and that ultimately every case needs to be judged in court for its merit proves, once again, that it is a murky area. (And I even read a little bit of the Berne Convention link, oh, my!)

    On the other hand, with the Internet and all sorts of self-publishing capabilities, I feel the need to learn about them and keep abreast of developments. It's like tax law; I'm so not interested, but it'd be wise to know some of it...


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