Danny invents a Lego spaceship

Danny invents a Lego spaceship

Image ownership has become more and more blurred with Instagram and other social media “re-purposing” original images.  I recently read a great article with an update on this fascinating and important subject, especially for artists. I wrote extensively about originality and what constitutes an original work of art in my book, Point of Art in 2007.  The definition hasn’t changed.

Even since the advent of social media, one thing is still clear, FB, Instagram, Twitter and the rest do not claim the rights to the images posted on their sites.  They are still owned by the creator.  If you take an image off Instagram and re-purpose it into a work of art, it must be significantly altered for it to be considered original.  If not, permission must be explicitly granted by the artist and a credit or a mutually agreed upon financial arrangement is in order.  “Sharing” is good.  Stealing isn’t.

I’ve experienced more than once the singular compliment of having my images stolen to make mousepads, coffee mugs or tee shirts.  Putting work out there doesn’t imply the right to use it for personal or financial gain.  I see people photograph images at art openings and know they may use it to make a giclee for that tricky spot on their wall they’ve been trying to fill.

In the very well written article (linked above), explores mega famous artist, Richard Prince, who thinks nothing of stealing images from Instagram to make his very expensive art.  Are those from whom he steals entitled to a cut of the profit?  He says no.

The question is, do normal working class people (most artists I know fall into this category) have the resources to go to court over plagiarism against a rich artist like Richard Prince or an internet mousepad merchandiser?

I like the solution the would be plaintiffs came up with.  Rather than a costly court battle, they are selling Richard Prince images that he stole from them, at a fraction of the price on their own sites.  Instagrammers, @SuicideGirls, are selling prints of Prince’s pieces and donating the proceeds to a group that focuses on digital copyright issues.

It really comes down to simple question of fairness, which has been lost in the shuffle with society’s moving away from individual privacy, and the explosion of social media.  I’m just here to remind you, however, stealing ideas and images is still wrong, unless you have something significant to add to the conversation that transforms it.

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