Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Increase to Most Copyright Office Fees

There will be an increase to most US Copyright registration fees, effective May 1, 2014.



Contemporary Art & Law: Recent Controversies and Legal Developments


I’m very happy to announce that I will be giving a lecture presentation tomorrow for the Arts Counsel Texas, in Dallas. This event was organized by my good friend, Meg Friess, and is generously hosted by the firm of Thompson & Knight.

If you’re in Dallas, I’d love to see you. All info on event here.


W’s Portraits of World Leaders Are Not Infringing

Has W infringed anyone’s copyright in taking the sources of his portraits from Google Images, including images owned by the Associated Press? To answer this question, you have to ask what original authorship did W take from the copyrighted works? From what I can see, other than his subjects’ faces and their generic, centered, full-face compositions, W took very little. And none of those things are proprietary to a photographer. Moreover, most of the photos look like they were taken from press conferences, where photographers do not control the lighting. At the risk of alienating my photographer friends, what then is creative about the original works? Yes, the photographers may have set the shutter speed, F-stop and ISO, but if that’s all they did, the subject is centered, and they didn’t control the lighting, then there is a strong argument that the photographs are not sufficiently original to qualify for copyright protection–not that many courts would have the courage and integrity to find so.

But we don’t even need to go that far. Assuming that the photographs are sufficiently original, again, what did W take that was original? Perhaps I don’t understand photography well enough to say what is original about a centered, full-face portrait taken in what is probably a flutter of quick shots without controlling the lighting. But it is not fair to put such snapshots on par with the work of Christopher Williams or Cindy Sherman. We owe it to ourselves to ask first what is original about a photograph. Here, I would argue that  given how ham-fisted W’s portraits are, it is difficult to argue that he took enough of the originals even to support a claim of substantial similarity. If the portraits were photorealistic, the substantial similarity would probably exist, but the paintings’ amateurishness precludes it here.

But even if we assume substantial similarity, the use is fair on the four factors:  (1) This is not a commercial use, and even if you try to argue that it is commercial to some degree, a single painting is vastly different than a photo mass-reproduced in a newspaper or advertising campaign. (Courts need to do better at recognizing this enormous difference in the context of unique objects–the Second Circuit in Cariou v. Prince seems to have done so, but not explicitly.) (2) Further, the underlying works are closer to fact than fiction, and there is a strong public interest in allowing people to make artwork based on existing images of world leaders given how difficult it would be for someone who doesn’t work for the New York Times to take such photographs. (3) And again, W has taken little if any original authorship. (4) Finally, I don’t think anyone would argue that someone might buy a W portrait instead of a reproduction of, say, the original AP photograph. The two things serve entirely different aesthetic purposes–one politically newsworthy, the other arguably humorous to just about anyone other than W’s nuclear family. Yes, you could argue that W is usurping the photographers’ market to license work for use in unique artworks, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, doing so would largely eviscerate the fair use defense for artwork and at negligible economic gain to photographers.


George Bush the decider or…the copyright infringer?

According to ANIMAL, George Bush’s recent paintings of world leaders, having sparked the media’s curiosity, may be on shaky intellectual property grounds. It seems W based his work on images found through Google searches, with at least one (and almost certainly more) being copyrighted to the Associated Press. Perhaps we should try to pull an Al Capone here–if we can’t get him on more serious charges, we can try to zap the decider on copyright infringement! Greg Allen seems to think they would be fair use. I’m not so sure. Thierry Guetta anyone?


Art Law Career Panel at Fordham Law School


If you’re interested in finding out more about careers in art law, come out to Fordham Law School on Tuesday, April 8th and find out. Talk and lunch generously hosted by the Art Law Society. Hope to see you there!


Mike Kelley at NYU Law School’s Art Law Society

Framed image found in Mike Kelley's "Mobile Homestead," (2013).

Framed image found in Mike Kelley’s “Mobile Homestead,” (2013).

I’m giving a talk today for NYU Law School’s Art Law Society on Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead project. I always look forward to speaking to super bright law students who have great interest in contemporary art.


2nd Circuit Officially Adopts Discovery Rule for Copyright Infringement Claims

The Second Circuit in Psihoyos v. John Wiley & Sons.

[W]e conclude that copyright infringement claims do not accrue until actual or constructive discovery of the relevant infringement[.]



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