Copyright is very important concerning the market and technology of today. People talk about how “fair use” needs to be extended due to the technology of today-- they feel that an extreme interpretation of “fair use“ is needed to secure creative freedoms. They often forget to mention the ease in which an individual can make reproductions from images found online today and the fact that many of the artists advocating for extended “fair use“, such as Shepard Fairey, profit from the random images they find online.
They are waving the banner of creative freedom when in reality the focus is on profit and profit alone-- their profit. Profit with total disregard for the profit and market of their peers. That is why Shepard Fairey is a target for my criticism-- and why he will continue to receive criticism until he takes responsibility. Unfortunately, he tends to use his charity work as a shield or resorts to having his friends rattle sabers when faced with criticism.
The fact remains that a skilled artist can use computer programs to alter an image they found online in order to suggest that it is his or her own-- or he or she can simply print off copies of the image in order to make changes to it. That is not to suggest that artists using these programs are not artists or that certain aspects of computer based art is of no value. It all comes down to responsibility and respect for other artists.
Shepard Fairey, to me, represents artists who display neither. Those who support his extreme view of “fair use” either don’t care about how hard it is for artists to establish a market for their work or they embrace his practice within their own methods of artistic creation involving works for profit.
My issue with extended views of “fair use” is that an emerging artist can spend months or years working on an oil painting or sculpture only to end up with another artists using an image of that painting or sculpture for a project that may have only taken days to create. In a sense, you could say that the artists working in traditional mediums need to have their work protected from the technology of today. Telling those artists not to upload images online is not the answer.
All artists deserve to gain exposure online knowing that their work is protected by strong copyright. There is room for “fair use” as long as it is limited and does not destroy or burden the business of emerging artists before they have a chance to rise on their own. Unfortunately, copyright is constantly under attack.
As mentioned earlier, more artists than ever are making a living or part of their living from selling their art. These artists need to know that their images are protected. Their collectors need to know that their investment is secure. In other words, artists must be able to defend the exclusive rights to their art-- to their business and legacy. If Shepard Fairey wins against the AP it will be yet another blow to artists who desire to embrace the market aspect of art. Throw the romantic image of 'the artist' aside! The idea that art should not involve business is a fantasy when one consider the art market of today-- Fairey knows this. So do I.
That is why so many art organizations and individuals have stood against orphan works legislation in recent years due to the fact that if passed the legislation would have greatly reduced the ability of living artists to protect and defend their art in court. Those same people should stand against artists like Shepard Fairey who fly false banners of ‘artistic freedom’ and ‘free expression’ during legal cases involving copyright infringement.
After all, the artists who cry ’artistic freedom’ and ’free expression’ when exposed for copyright infringement often do it in order to protect their profit rather than the way in which they work. Look at Shepard Fairey’s lawsuit against the AP-- it makes it clear that he desires to protect the profit made from the image as well as future profit. The issue is not necessarily about the AP-- the fact remains that Fairey could have done this to a fellow artist as he has done in the past.
Again, if the AP loses to Shepard Fairey it will mean that the door will be open further when he decides to ‘reference’ artwork by an emerging artist. If he wins against the AP it will set a precedent that will greatly harm the ability for all artists to defend their copyright in court. I can't stress this enough!
I realize that copyright issues can quickly become a debate between freedom of speech/expression and control. However, suggesting that supporters of strong copyright are attacking creative freedom is not exactly fair considering that the issue of copyright infringement does not become an issue until price tags are involved.
If an artist wants to explore the work of another artist directly, fine-- it becomes an issue when the artist attaches a price to the ‘new’ image or produces prints of the ‘new’ image for profit. We would not be facing this debate if it were not for the fact that some individuals-- Shepard Fairey for example-- think that it is acceptable to profit off of the hard work of others. His case against the AP is not about creative freedom or any of the other similar rhetoric spewing from his lips-- it is about his desire to profit off of others without consequence.
Securing creative freedom is one thing-- the desire to legitimize irresponsible and disrespectful appropriation for profit is another. Creative freedom is not under attack-- the rights of artists to secure their artwork and images of their artwork by copyright is. The ability for artists to protect the market for their art is under attack. Those on the other side of the aisle continue to wave the banner of creative freedom-- I wish they would just come out and say what their battle charge is really about. They want to be able to profit off of the works of others while at the same time protecting their ‘new‘ images from “profiteers“, “mimics“, and “parasites“. They want the best of both worlds. Point that out and those artists will often flee from a debate on this issue.
Think of it this way-- many of the artists who support an extended view of “fair use”, such as Shepard Fairey and Joy Garnett, are the same artists who create art utilizing the work of others for profit. They are represented by galleries-- they know the business side of art. So are they really champions of freedom and free-culture? Or are they just protecting their own business by supporting standards that would make it harder for other business-minded artists to protect their images from their use? If it is not about profit you would think they would be more than willing to 'spread the wealth' with the artists and photographers they 'reference'.
Don’t get me wrong, “fair use” is important-- however it should not be extended to the point that a widely known artist can base his or her career working directly from artwork by relatively unknown artists-- and other individuals-- for profit. This is why I have concerns about Shepard Fairey and what he represents. The contradictions and hypocrisy is tiresome. I’m not attacking creative freedom with my opinion-- I’m standing up for what the majority of artists have fought long and hard for. Don’t confuse creative freedom with the need for some artists to profit off of other artists.
To put it bluntly, it is going to be horrible if artists allow their rights to be stamped out in the name of creative freedom when the artists leading this charge, such as Shepard Fairey, are thinking more about their bank accounts than real creative freedom. Since when did creative freedom involve the need to profit from others? Are we defining creative freedom by dollar signs now? Let us not confuse the two! We should examine what Shepard Fairey is really saying when he uses these powerful words-- “creative”, “freedom”, and "expression".
In my opinion, he is seeking the freedom to be creative with the work of other living or recently deceased artists-- and others-- in order to profit without consequences. He desires the freedom to go against their intentions and legacy while expecting others to ‘obey’ his intentions and legacy. He is no different than the people who strongly supported aspects of the recent orphan works legislation which would have harmed the ability of living artists to protect their art. It is as simple as that. If we define ‘artistic freedom’ and ’free expression’ with a dollar sign the arts are truly doomed.
I must stress this-- If Shepard Fairey/ Obey Giant Art Inc. wins against the AP it will set a precedent that will make it easier for individuals and corporations to abuse the copyright of visual artists and other creative professionals. Make a stand-- disobey Shepard Fairey. Let people know that not everyone in the global art community supports Shepard Fairey's extreme interpretation of "fair use" for profit. Think of the past allegations that have shadowed his career-- think about what a victory against copyright could mean for your career. Support the exclusive rights that the majority of artists have fought hard for.
This is a 4 part rant:
Take care, Stay true,
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