Thursday, June 6, 2013

Protection of Copyright and Annie Leibovitz

This morning I woke up and heard the brilliant = shiny news that the permanent collection of Annie Leibovitz photographs will be housed at The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.  What stellar news for photo-lovers, Canadians and tourist alike.  I dug a little further, thinking I'd love to have a photo of myself standing within inches of one of Annie's photographs - if I was ever lucky enough to visit this gallery (I intend to be lucky).  What I learned was interesting for me and perhaps for you.  (Read on below) Sadly I won't be having my photo taken inside the AGNS. Perhaps I'll meet Annie in person. That would be even better. 

Here is what I discovered:

Protection of Copyright
There are several rights inherent in the creation of art - copyright, exhibition right, and moral rights. Physical ownership of a work of art does not give you any of these rights unless explicitly licensed or given by the artist, normally at an additional cost.  

Copyright of an artwork belongs to the artist or their estate for 50 years following their death. This holds true even when the physical owner is the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. While many artists grant the AGNS limited license to use the images of their work for exhibition and internal publication purposes - including this website - it is rare to be given the copyright ownership by a living artist.  

Copyright allows an artist to have control over how their work is used and in what context. To use an image of their work requires a license and there is a fee for each use. If you're interested in looking at the regulations and the fees involved, please look at the Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective.

In this instance, it's not the act of taking the photograph that's harmful (particularly non-flash photography), but the use to which the image is then put. Did you post that image to Twitter? Facebook? Flickr? You have then officially infringed on the artist's copyright unless you explicitly sought out the artist and gained their permission (and paid them the required fee) to use that image - and they can approve the image itself. The agreements on public sites like Twitpic, etc. normally state that you waive any right of ownership to those images, and they can then be used and dispersed, further infringing on that copyright.

Copyright fees are necessary and a prime source of income from visual artists, as well as writers, and their moral rights allows them to prevent their work from being associated with unapproved causes. The work on exhibit by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia at any given time is a mix of art in the public domain (copyright has expired), art to which the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia owns the copyright for (ie. Maud Lewis), and art with the copyright maintained by the artist or their estate. As such, it is simpler to have the rule that no photographs are allowed unless permission has otherwise been sought and granted by the Gallery.  

Patti Friday, Photojourno, reporting from inside 'The Art Dept.' at the international 'Embassy of Ideas'.

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