The first copyright law, made in the eighteenth century, granted artists the exclusive right to control the copying of their original creations for 14 years. Too brief a period? Perhaps, but by the beginning of the twenty-first century, copyright’s term had grown to cover the life of the artist plus 70 years – which means that Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avigon will remain protected until 2043, 136 years after it was completed. Too long, surely?
In this issue we look at the twentieth-century phenomenon of “copyright creep” and its implications for artists working in the Digital Age.
The issue features an article from Dr Shane Burke titled Copyright as Medium. In the article he talks to several artists, including myself about copyright the use of copyright as a theme and driving force behind the creation of artworks. He pays particular attention to the “Blurred Lines” sonification piece I made the Common Property exhibition at Jerwood Space in 2016.
“The piece is effective only as long as it pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable. As the laws change I would need to change the work to reflect this. Overall for it to be effective it needs to do the opposite of what is permitted by law. It is only by doing this, and highlighting how, quite frankly, stupid these laws are that I can hope to bring about change.”
Asked how he feels about the fact that copyright law may impact directly on the form of this works, Roberts averred: “I’m happy about it but it also confuses me. I’m annoyed by the fact that a change in law can physically alter the state of an artwork (e.g. if I were ordered to censor/cover up offending parts of the work) or change how it’s perceived. At the same time, if in doing this it can help to start a discussion around copyright laws then I’m happy to be a part of it.” When asked if he considered copyright law as an artistic raw material in terms of his work, he replied: “Yes, as long as law can physically alter the appearance of an artwork then law is something tangible that can be manipulated and worked with.”