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On photo-eye's Art Law Lecture Series

This week, photo-eye hosts its first of a three-part series on US copyright issues that seem to plague, or at least nag at, many artists and photographers. What has prompted us to pursue this topic at photo-eye? Creation in the digital age is more confusing than ever, particularly with the seemingly ever increasing rights held by corporations or larger entities and these entities claiming rights on works that are not so clearly defined as theirs. I have read a few books on art law, taken a class and even had a brief run in with trademark and questionable copyright infringement when publishing a free online periodical that I produce with a few friends. I am still unclear about how it all works. It sounds quite naïve, but it took me many years to realize that history and science, and now law, are inexact and impacted by the biases and prejudices of those involved. My fascination with the inexact nature of case law has prompted me to seek out those who know about it and thus we conceived of this series of lectures to expand our knowledge of the rules guiding our decisions in making art in our contemporary economy.

When photo-eye Gallery staff Anne Kelly, Cliff Shapiro and I met with Talia Kosh from New Mexico Lawyers for the Arts in April to discuss hosting such an event at photo-eye, the general ideas for the series – copyright protection, fair use and trademark – were easy to establish. The specifics took up most of the meeting: How do you protect yourself before infringement happens and what can be changed about copyright law to create a more transparent, less stifling creative environment? How has case law changed the face of these issues, specifically high profile cases like Prince v. Cariou? What has the presence of the Internet done to encourage or hinder creativity? What protections does the artist have in the digital world? What rights do you have to protect your work in the case of non-US infringement? What rights do corporations have to claim ownership of your works? How large a role does the economy and art market play in artists’ rights? Ultimately, where is your place in protecting your work?

We finally narrowed our focus for the first lecture to the broad topic “Protecting Your Rights as a Photographer” to be delivered by former attorney and photographer Efrain Padro. This lecture will discuss best practices, registering your works, and a few other topics. The following lecture on July 11th will touch on the topic of “Understanding Copyright and Fair Use” with licensed patent attorney Kameron Kramer and both lectures will culminates in a panel discussion focusing on “The REMIX Culture: Appropriation Art and Fair Use in the Digital Age" on August 15th.

In our meeting, Kosh also made recommendations for websites and books that would be helpful to begin to answer some of these questions. As my interests are in the “market” and the monetization of artworks, I was immediately attracted to one book on the suggested reading list, Lawrence Lessing’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. I must put in a caveat here: I am only 40 pages into this publication after two days, but I am engrossed and I cannot stop reading. Since I had plans for this post preceding the lecture to be held tomorrow, I skimmed the book and stopped on the sections that immediately attracted my eye. Lessing begins by pointing out cases where copyright has interceded where it questionably should have let well enough alone, discussing the more prevalent use of Creative Commons licensing and how culture and art should be, and should be allowed to be, more democratized. For most of the book, Lessing describes and gives real life examples to prove his points, breaking down the commercial and sharing economies and how they can merge into contemporary and fast evolving hybrid economy. Lessing finishes with not just a conclusion of ideas presented in the book, but with suggestions for amendments to the current law, how we as individuals can change our thoughts if our minds are not leaning in the direction of a freer art producing culture, and on issues standing in the way of modern creativity. Lessing mentions issues corrupting and polluting the bodies and world of younger and future generations and the final page challenges us as adults to stop waging war on our children, warning that they will become the enemy. The book is not anti-corporation, nor anti-commerce, but offers ideas about reform of the current law and culture and is quite positive about how we can work together to help bring about a new culture that relishes and encourages creativity by expanding the "remix" of human ideas and art.

With this series, we hope to foster discussion and prompt thought on this topic and how far we are willing to go to create. To borrow a quote from Remix, Lessing notes Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on the spreading of ideas: "ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition." We hope, barring any issues with permissions, to post the lectures and panel online after each event to help share what we have learned with you. We welcome comments and suggestions for questions for the lecture and panel. Please email melanie@photoeye.com or anne@photoeye.com and we will consider all questions we receive as a potential topic.

PART ONE Protecting your Rights as a Photographer by Efrain Padro will be held at photo-eye Gallery on Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 6:30-7;30 pm. Photo-eye Galley is located at 376 Garcia St, Santa Fe, NM 87501

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