Plagiarism, copyright, and fair use

Photograph of a Paul Klee painting in a text book.
In ‘Art: The Whole Story’, Stephen Farthing (Ed), Thames & Hudson 2018, p 416.

I’ve been struggling with this for two reasons. As a writer, and prior to that as a clinician and researcher, I was accustomed to a quite clear structure with regard to the use of other people’s words or ideas. Quotes are not often used in scientific papers but in literature, they are and they have to be minimal and clearly referenced. Similarly any supporting or contesting ideas, papers, theoretical references. That feels clear to me.

Latterly, in my early (re)-exposure to the art world via local groups, I came across the practice of replication in physical media by copying of photographs and art works from magazine images. That some of these later appeared, with neither the original nor its maker credited, as ostensibly new pieces at craft fairs and the like, I found quite unsettling.

Copyright is necessarily complex but this piece, by Derek Trillo in the OCA blog, sets out the framework quite clearly I think:

Plaza de la Revolución, Havana, Cuba, © D Trillo 2007

This picture of Plaza de la Revolución contains a metal sculpture that’s also based on Korda’s image. With the artwork photographed in context my image has ‘fair use’ within editorial usage, but not for commercial uses such as advertising. This is an important distinction between the ‘fair use’ policy of reporting on the observed, and the directly commercial intentions that copy originals, even when they are altered.

See Produce, Reuse, Recycle … by Derek Trillo 

In particular, I like the ‘how would you feel if …’ question. Obviously this requires a morality lacking in most deliberate plagiarists, but it seems a reasonable one to help just put the brakes on before maybe using something that hasn’t been properly accounted for or permissions gained.

A few days ago, challenged by a requirement of Assignment 1 to think about artists by whom I might have been influenced or ones that I like, and experiencing brain-freeze as a result, I flicked rapidly through my idiots’ guide to art history, taking photos of images that stood out to me, without reference to who they were. I wanted my eye to be the first judge, not some sense of how important the artist might be in the canon of artistic endeavour. It seems, from Trillo’s outline of ‘fair use’, I may be able to include these clearly book-derived images in blogs where relevant. The book itself of course being properly referenced. Including historical art work this way seems to me to be a long way from plagiaristic use, and nothing like the example one writer gave of finding herself judging her own short story submitted to a competition by someone else in which the only change had been the font.  I’ve included one of my photos here. If anyone has thoughts on its acceptability, I’d be really glad to hear, and preferably before I’m sued [insert emoji of your choice].

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