Are you concerned about copyright issues using found objects?

I recently wrote a post on my blog ASK Harriete about using post consumer materials and a concern about copyright infringement.

The artist featured in the post was crafthaus artist Charlotte Kruk whose wonderful sculptural clothing is constructed with trash, specifically candy wrappers.

Your welcome to read the post and the entire series about the concept of Fair Use. There are upcoming posts in this series. Leave a comment about your experiences.


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Good topic Harriete, considering the the trends in art and craft these days. We have seen many heavy-handed attempts at intimidation and extortion related to "copyright infringement" over the years. The tone and style is always the same. Lots of blustering and quoting chapter and verse of all the implied bad things that will happen if you do not acquiesce IMMEDIATELY. With very few exceptions this is empty posturing intended to scare individuals who have no knowledge of the law or their rights. While the Koons case is a high profile example, it is also an anomaly of the rarest kind. In 30 plus years we have not seen one of these attempted coercions ever go to court or be pursued further when the artist refuses to submit. The simple truth is that the average person, and artist, has no idea what copyright laws are, how they work, or what protections they really afford you. That's why a dunning letter is so effective. It uses your lack of knowledge against you.
If you really look at copyright law (and every artist should) the first thing that is apparent is the extraordinary difficulty and expense in proving copyright infringement. It simply aint as simple as "you used something with our logo on it". But for discussion's sake, lets say that a company somehow did succeed in proving copyright infringement. First, they will have spent a major s***-load of money to do so. You on the other hand don't have to do much at all. The burden of proof is on them. Secondly, if they prevail in the infringement phase of the case, this in no way means they can recoup any money from you. This requires a second phase to show damages. In Miss Charlotte's case the company would need to prove material damages and loss of revenue because of her knickers. We would love to sit in the courtroom and listen to those briefs. The bottom line is that corporations are pragmatic beasts. They know that they have a snowball's chance in hell of winning these types of cases, and even if they do they won't collect a dime. So it comes down to spending a couple of hundred bucks to write a nasty letter to see if you can get the pesky artist to roll over. As the old trial lawyer saw goes, "When the law is on your side, pound the law. When its not, pound the table."
2 Roses, you sound very well informed on this issue.
Stay tuned for a upcoming posts...about copyright.
Hi Harriete and 2Roses,

I just recently attended a great workshop on Intellectual Property at the Columbus College of Art and Design. The presenter was Todd Collis of Collis, Smiles, & Collis LLC in Columbus, OH. He discussed Copyrights, Trademarks, and the Fair Use Doctrine at length, in plain English. He has also helped artists get their work back when a gallery closes or refuses to return/pay for work. Their website is
My question would come with someone in BioArt like Eduardo Kac. Wherein you could potentially use patented materials and thereby the burden of proof moves to you the accused. But perhaps that would only arise if the artist applied for a competing patent?
But i suppose this wouldn't necessarily apply to post-consumer waste rather it would apply more to pre-consumer items.
Copyright in the US is totally nuts.

I'm thinking about taking pictures of everyone's work, covering the photos with resin, and making simple rings, brooches, necklaces etc out of Lucite to attach all the pictures to. Then I will value them all at 100x the original artists value. I'll have a show at the Tate in no time.
Lucite™ is a trademarked name and we demand that you cease and desist using it in your posts immediately.
Plexiglas then.

I recently came across this interesting article and wanted to share it with you. Brigitte --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Available Online for Free Posted: 20 Jan 2010 10:30 AM PST
Hypermedia: Critical Issues in Contemporary Media Art is a column written by artist Artie Vierkant for Hyperallergic. Each article discusses an existing or emerging theme in practices at the intersection of electronic media and the arts, drawing from the contemporary and the historic, the pervasive and the obscure. One of the most important social, political, and artistic concerns facing us today is the question of access: our ability to share media, our ability to take ownership of or simply to view films, music, and other forms of art. In the past, non-digital and only finitely reproducible media created a certain type of economic exchange and ownership which has long been upended by file sharing. Every day millions of people download and stream films on the Internet in an alternative form of exchange more related to cultural capital than economic capital. This is a political action accomplished as easily as downloading the flat version of Avatar.

Sherrie Levine, "Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp)" (1991) There is a storied history of artists, particularly those associated with their own contemporary avant garde, supporting liberal viewpoints about access to and use of media. This carries a range of meanings based in the history of the time, including support of public education or public libraries and openly appropriating copyrighted material (Guy Debord, Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine). The dialogue surrounding illegal downloading is no different: based on the principle that the free availability and use of material can only stand to benefit society, breakdown class division, and (hopefully) establish a practice that will become a norm for a late capitalist society. Currently we have many labels for these ubiquitous activities: piracy, filesharing, and copyright infringement. As we have entered the age of ubiquitous digital information it is incredibly important that these issues and the active debates surrounding them are thoroughly understood. Over the next several years the ways that governments, corporations, and individuals chose to deal with intellectual property enforcement may radically shape the way we interface with our own culture in the future. Some of these decisions are happening right before our eyes — this past year a major court case ordered the closure of “The Pirate Bay” (though true to form the site soldiers on defiant), France adopted its HADOPI 2 three strikes bill into law (and recently unveiled an ironically copyright-infringing logo), and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international treaty between 36 major countries (including the entire European Union) has yet to be publicly unveiled but may require Internet service providers (ISPs) to sever an entire household’s Internet connection based on suspicion of piracy. Drafts of ACTA have also included clauses making the search of laptops and iPods at customs or border crossings a possibility. As individuals it is important that we engage with these issues, but for artists it is imperative. Appropriation and source material have been important artistic tools throughout history but with new developments it is already becoming more and more difficult to defend basic rights like Fair Use — YouTube bots, for instance, have scanned and removed many pieces of video art which included snippets from songs copyrighted by major corporations, completely disregarding the songs’ context and the possibility that they may constitute Fair Use. One of my favorite examples is Obloy Syndrome’s “Sprince (Dog Divengrin),” which has been re-uploaded and removed from YouTube several times over the last two years (here). Thankfully the piece now has a home on Megavideo. Artists have been dealing with the copyright debate admirably for many years, but there are a few whose recent projects stand out. AVAILABLE ONLINE FOR FREE In December of 2008 two graduate students at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, Timo Klok and Tobias Leingruber, caused a stir by releasing a Firefox extension called “Pirates of the Amazon” (2008). The extension was simple, it added a link to product pages that read “Download 4 Free” and would automatically redirect your web browser to “The Pirate Bay” and search for the item you were browsing.

Timo Klok and Tobias Leingruber, "Pirates of the Amazon" (2008) The two free culture radicals were served a take-down notice by Amazon on December 3, 2008, just one day after they had uploaded the extension. In a statement to the New York Times two days later, they wrote that [Amazon and "The Pirate Bay"] might look like opposites, but are actually quite similar in regards to the mainstream media content they provide … Our project demonstrated this practically. So it’s a parody of any kind of media consumerism, whether corporate or subcultural.” The project was lauded by many as a great example of social activism through art, though some weren’t so pleased, posting for instance: “Great, just make it apparent you are stealing stuff.” The statement (as well as the official documentation page) issued by the two artists is apt in its self-description as “parody,” actively inverting the types of ads that show up on torrent trackers for paid content sites. “Pirates of the Amazon” is in no way alone in its approach to copyright issues by way of highlighting absurdity or revealing mystic truths. The work of Evan Roth is also engaged directly in this divide, somewhere between boyish prank, conceptual art, and anti-capitalist activism.

Evan Roth, "Available Online for Free" (2008) A recent retrospective of Roth’s work at Advanced Minority gallery in Vienna dubbed Available Online for Free, in fact, made a profoundly similar statement about commercial distribution systems to that of “Pirates of the Amazon.” In conjunction with the exhibition, Roth printed rolls of red stickers with the words “Available Online for Free” and went around city stores placing them on software, movies, and music packaging. More recently, Roth has begun a piece called “Intellectual Property A****** Competition,” which pokes fun at the recent copyright controversy between the Associated Press and artist Shepard Fairey. Roth has taken the two images from the copyright dispute — an AP photograph of U.S. President Barack Obama and the iconic “HOPE” image created by Fairey after the photograph, respectively — and created out of each an edition of nine hand-crafted replica paintings, each of which are on sale on his website for $600. How does it become a competition? The first entity to sue Roth over the paintings wins. My money’s on Fairey. While we wait for the results of Roth’s competition, you can help the cause by becoming an Intellectual Property Donor:

Great article Brigitte. Thanks for adding this to the discussion. After reading Harriete's opinion piece in the current issue of Metalsmith, I'm interested in learning what people think about using a logo or design that isn't theirs in their work.

Logo's are intellectual property, so if we all agree with Harriete that "Each artist and maker is personally responsible and must be an advocate for his or her work. Artists should not be reluctant to stand up for their work and their livelihood"

Using someone else's logo, design, etc is stealing, regardless of their business size (big corporation or individual artist) If someone used my designs or my logo without my permission, I have no problem going after them and making them stop. It's part of being a responsible advocate for my work and protecting my livelihood.

I'm noticing a double standard about this issue. As Harriete pointed out, artists such as "Boris Bally of Humanufactured, Jim Dowd of Beehive Kitchenware, and John Rose of 2Roses have all initiated legal proceedings against imitators, sometimes winning settlements or at least stopping the imitator." We, as artists, all shout "Go Team!" in support of our colleagues and their choice to defend their work. But, if a corporation takes the same responsible action to protect their work, we shout "Boo, Hiss!" and label them the bad guy.
Michelle, and Crafthaus readers,

We should distinguish the difference between Fair Use of corporate logos and images as social and political commentary about society, in contrast to the stealing of IP, logos, and techniques as the imitator's own designs, etc. The commentary use acknowledges the power of iconic images while the other attempts to take value away from the originator.

No less than the U.S. Constitution encourages "fair use" and there have been many artists such as Dada (early 20th century) and most notably Andy Warhol (1960's) that work under this kind of commentary.

This is NOT the same as an artist copying another artist's style or technique which demonstrates a lack originality or their own content issues.

I'd like to also distinguish between corporations protecting their IP from counterfeiters (which I agree with wholeheartedly) in contrast to overreaching litigators who attempt to stifle fair use and social commentary.

I look forward to discussing this issue further...perhaps as the SNAG Conference (if you are going) or perhaps at another venue in the future.


Thanks for clarifying that. I'm looking forward to discussing this at SNAG too.
A Fairy Tale for the 21st Century

We are all probably aware of watchdog site that have been set up by irate individuals or groups to out corporate bad behavior. Recent developments have brought to our attention that these same types of tactics are being used to attack artists. What caught our attention was when a site that purports to out copyright infringers leveled accusations against an artist with whom we are acquainted. The transgression, according to the site, was that the artist created a ring incorporating a silver casting of a Leggo building block.

Now, because we know the artist, we also know the other side of the story not published by the watchdog site. The artist was completely upfront about the fact that the item contained a casting of a Leggo and made no claim whatsoever as to it being her original creation. The artist had also contacted Leggo's legal department before making the piece, explaining what she was doing, and asking if they (Leggo) had any objections. Leggo had none.

Now, here's the rub. This watchdog site is run anonymously. The publishers made no effort to contact the artist before publicly branding her a violator. When the artist contacted the publisher (very politely we might add) to set the record straight, she was publicly reviled for her effort. Facts be damned.

The point here is that the Internet seems to have brought us back to the days of the lettres de cachet, where anonymous and gutless self-appointed guardians engage in character assassination without redress. The artist was finally able to get the slanderous accusation removed from the site by filing a complaint with Wordpress, the host of the offending site.
That feels more like luck than justice, and that disturbs us. Next time may not be so lucky. Maybe the moral, political or legal content of your work will be in question.


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