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Writing > On Copyright
2006

The web, the accompanying information explosion and the proliferation of imaging media have highlighted many questions around copyright and the ‘origin’ of the creative impulse.

Whereas literary copyright has been well established for many years and is vigilantly protected by publishers and authors, copying in the visual arts has traditionally been seen as both a training tool and a means to an extended vocabulary.

The perceived divisions between different forms of visual art has also ‘allowed’ some copying to take place quite legitimately, and such visual piracy is often praised. Graphic Designs appropriating the signage and crafts of other culture-groups is seen as a means of successful communicating within capitalist aims, and the origin of the image is hardly ever questioned or acknowledged. In their turn the work of designers are made to be used and discarded, therefore their inventions and styles are not seen as ‘owned’ by them either. On the other hand, the companies that these images and symbols were created for, are adamant that they own the copyright to such artwork!

Photographic images have also got a strange relationship with the idea of copyright. If I take a picture of someone standing in Time Square, I (inadvertently or on purpose) also take a picture of hundreds of designs, advertising messages and artworks. Does the publishing/copyright of that picture belong to me, the person standing in the picture, or the advertisers, designers and managers of time square? None of which would make any claim to the picture unless I seem to stand a chance of making money with the image.

Which leads one to believe that copyright is only of significance within our money–based value system. Luckily for art, most of the time money is not too much of an obstacle! (At least not enough of it to launch lawsuits.) Actually most of the time, brands and designers seem to deem any visual repetition of their images as bonus advertising.

I am perplexed when people vehemently protest that someone’s ‘intellectual property’ has been violated. It has been my experience that a thought or a certain insight is in the ‘ether’ and that it is the artist’s duty to respond as fast and as well as she can, but if not – someone else will. Even if it does take immense effort at times to bring an ‘original’ thought into the public domain, the concept itself is always the product of other thoughts (expressed by others) that came before it, and quickly passes into the larger crucible of its time.

In this age of digital communication and copying, it is virtually impossible to regulate the flow of images. Whilst I hope that others will treat my work with the same respect and recognition that I feel towards theirs, I do not think it is sensible to cast our thoughts and emotive expressions into the iron chains of the law.

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Posted 07 December 2005, www.annisnyman.co.za, author: Anni Snyman

All work is under a Creative Commons Copyright Licence.

 

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