Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
I have been talking for some time about the idea that the image of a piece of work is more valuable to the artist than the work itself. This is a fairly radical concept for many in the arts, but it’s an accepted fact for most people in media, technology and marketing. This idea is the result of convergence, the merger of previously distinct technologies or fields into a new form, requiring new practices. What has happened in video, music, telecommunications and computing over the last two decades is an example of convergence. It has been happening in the arts for quite some time as well.
Convergence is exciting, messy, disruptive, changes the way things work and the way we think they should work. It changes the playing field AND the game. At the center of this discussion is a raging debate over issues of privacy, ownership of information and copyright. To the point, all of this will have an impact on the images of your work. Just to be clear, I am not talking about your work – I am talking about IMAGES of your work.
Data – your data – is the currency of the 21st century. Billions of dollars are spent collecting it, and multi-billions are made selling it. Who controls information about you, and who can profit from it is the new Wild West. This also has far reaching ramifications for artists and makers, specifically on the issue of control and right to compensation for the use of images of your work.
There has been a lot of talk about Pinterest of late. It is the newest shiny bauble on the social networking scene. Artists (some, anyway) love Pinterest because it seems to shower free attention on a lucky maker. We love free and we love attention. But nothing is really free and some of the more astute makers are already saying “Wait a minute… what’s that tucked down there in all that legal terms and conditions.
All this being said, we’re not particularly anti-Pinterest. They are simply one example among many in a trend that foreshadows much larger problems for artists. The trend is that a system, indeed an entire industry has developed for acquisition, distribution and monetization of private data. In this particular case “data” means “images of your work”. The problem is no system has been developed to ensure control, individual rights, privacy and revenue sharing from the use of that data. If you think copyright law will protect you, you are woefully mistaken. Look at the music industry.
The closest we come to being organized on this issue is photographers, who recognized this trend decades ago. They organized to protect themselves and worked to pass legislation specific to their interests. By the way, do not confuse that with YOUR interests. There has been an ongoing and at times contentious debate over who owns the rights to images of an artist’s work – the photographer who took the image or the artist who created the subject matter being photographed. Current copyright law sides with the photographer, even if the artist paid the photographer to take the pictures.
Now that your gears are turning, try this idea on for size. The image of a work of art will be used to represent the item and the artist far more often, and be seen by a much larger audience, than the actual object ever will, its importance to the artist’s career is immediately obvious. Now consider that unless you took that photo of your work yourself, you probably don’t own it in the first place.
If that isn’t enough of a minder-binder for you, now Pinterest asserts that they have the right to financial compensation for the use of any image of your work posted on their site. All of this accomplished by neat legal maneuver signed sealed and delivered when you or anyone posts an image of your work to the Pinterest site. Pinterest makes repeated declarations that they have “worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, adapt, modify, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast, access, view, and otherwise exploit such Member Content only on, through or by means of the Site, Application or Services.”
Just standard procedure … to take control of and make money off your images. By the way, just because you can’t imagine how they are going to do it - they already have. Which is why they paid a lawyer (maybe the one on the other site) a s*** load of money to craft that very specific language.
This is where we’d like to bring your attention to another trend of convergence - social media and activism. It’s what you are doing right this minute, reading this.
Just as photographers and stock photography companies have become very efficient at collecting royalty payments and enforcing copyright control for the artists and photographers they represent, we need to start organizing ourselves along the same lines. Is there a role for the major arts organizations to play? This is certainly how things got rolling in the photography world.
Many arts organizations are grappling with how to make themselves relevant to their constituencies in a changing world. A collaborative effort could harness the power of social activism to assert artist’s rights over images of our own work.
At the end of the day, it beats sitting alone in our studios helplessly watching someone else take control of what’s ours.