Posts In "Fine Arts"

Fine Arts

U.S. Supreme Court Leaves Important Fair Use Ruling Undisturbed

More than a century ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes warned that it would be dangerous for people trained only in the law to decide the worth of a work of art—at least outside of the narrowest and most obvious limits.  As Holmes said:  “At the one extreme some works of genius would be sure to miss appreciation. Their very novelty would make them repulsive until the public had learned the new language in which their author spoke.”

Perhaps anticipating the arrival of such works as Tom Forsythe’s “Barbie Enchiladas” and Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Orange),” Holmes’ statement rings particularly true in today’s “appropriation art” scene.  Indeed, the growth of appropriation art, which the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) defines as “the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects,” has been stunning.  As just one example, when Andy Warhol premiered his Campbell’s Soup Cans work back in 1962 (which is a painting of a bunch of soup cans in a row), the canvasses only sold for only $100.  But in 1996, (at what must have been the height of America’s craze for salty soups), the paintings sold for $15 million.

Earlier this week, the debate over judges deciding the worth of works of art was reinvigorated as the United States Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal of an extremely high profile fair use case called Cariou v. Prince.  In Cariou, a federal court of appeals in New York ruled, in a 2-to-1 decision, that 25 out of 30 paintings by Richard Prince made fair uses of copyrighted photographs by Patrick Cariou.  With respect to the other five Prince paintings, the appellate court sent the case back to the district court for a closer examination.  But as the dissenting judge recognized:  the line between the 25 fair uses and the five questionable ones is very thin—and might be better left to art experts to define rather than judges.

Continue reading the full story . . . »

Who Owns Cute Girls in Pink Coats on Daddy’s Shoulders?

The Beatles crossing Abbey Road.  A nurse and sailor kissing in Times Square as the end of World War II is announced.  An African vulture patiently waiting for a starving toddler to die.  The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.  Jack Ruby shooting Lee Oswald.  Rose and Jack on the bow of the Titanic (or, for movie fans of a different era, maybe Marilyn Monroe’s white dress billowing as she stands over a subway grate).

Iconic photographs capture an image and immortalize it.  Once seen, forever remembered.  Pictures worth a thousand words.  Other poignant clichés.  The point is, a photograph can take everything a historical moment symbolizes and preserve it for eternity — or at least until you accidentally throw out the pictures while moving, or maybe leave them unattended in your storage locker until you die.  (And if you haven’t seen the above photographs — other than the storage locker ones — stop reading this blog and look at them now or risk forever being a cultural ignoramus.)

Now think of a photograph of a little girl wearing a pink coat sitting on her father’s shoulders outside a church clutching a palm leaf.  Unless you spend a lot of time studying FBI manhunt posters, this photograph does not immediately spring to mind.  But it has one trait that the above photographs do not:  it was the subject of a recent lawsuit by its photographer against Sony Pictures, which used a photograph featuring a little girl wearing a pink coat sitting atop Eric McCormack’s shoulders in a television movie.  So, are these two photos “substantially similar,” such that the image on the right infringes the copyright in the image on the left?

According to Sony Pictures — and, now, the Boston-based federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit — the answer is no. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Trying to Stay Off a Reality TV Show? Maybe Try Dancing Whenever the Cameras Are Around!

Curt Sachs once said that “dance is the mother of the arts.” Sounds very eloquent, doesn’t it? You can’t help but think of a beautiful ballerina gracefully cascading along the stage, performing in front of an adorning audience. Now, take this quote and those serene images, place them on train tracks, wait for speeding train to hit, and…boom! You now have Dance Moms, Lifetime’s latest so-called reality show and voyeuristic indulgence featuring infamous dance studio owner Abby Lee Miller, several of her young dancers, and their overbearing moms. The show appears to be loosely scripted, at best, to contrive needless drama and controversy. Does anyone seriously believe that these moms were genuinely outraged by the “wildly inappropriate” costumes their daughters were wearing? Pah-lease!


Not surprising that the best they could do was Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on Lifetime. (Although we can all be grateful to the show for helping to bring the phrase “prosti-tots” into the vernacular. So, you know, thanks for that.)

Before I write any further, I should probably confess that I am both a former dance competition kid and, by definition, a dance mom. Like the Abby Lee dancers, my 11-year old daughter dances nearly 20 hours a week, performs in nine group routines and two solos, and attends many of the dance competitions and conventions featured by Lifetime. So, are the rest of us dance moms angry that the show entirely ignores the positives of youth dance in favor of gross sensationalization? That it fails to point out that, instead of coming home from school and sitting on the couch playing video games, these dance kids are getting incredible exercise, learning an art form, gaining performance skills, building self-confidence and creating life-long friendships? That it ignores how the drive and ambition these kids build as young dancers will launch them into a variety of successful, non-dance careers? Absolutely. Am I writing this blog to express my disdain for Lifetime’s unfair and irresponsible depiction of the dance world? Maybe. But behind all the pirouettes, the show raises some interesting and novel legal issues. Really. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Copyright: More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

This Christmas, my mother-in-law gave my dog-obsessed daughter a gadget that (ostensibly) allowed her to view life through the eyes of our dog, Olive. It was a digital camera that attached to Olive’s collar, and it randomly snapped a picture every minute or so as Olive roamed around our yard and went about her daily, um, business (no, thankfully, it didn’t photograph what was going on at that end of the dog…). Well, we got a lot of pictures of grass and her food bowl, and a couple of catawampus views of our agapanthus and geraniums, which were cool in a canine fun-house sort of way. But I definitely wouldn’t have put any of them in a frame. I mean, I love my dog, but Ansel Adams she ain’t.

Well maybe I should reconsider. You see, a fantastic self-portrait taken by a monkey has been sweeping the internet, and causing quite a ruckus in certain copyright circles. (How is this macaque already better at self-portraits than 95% of people posting their pictures on Facebook?) Apparently, when award-winning nature photographer David Slater momentarily walked away from his tripod while filming black macaques in Indonesia, one of the monkeys took over, snapping hundreds of pictures. It isn’t quite Shakespeare, but the now-famous grinning self-portrait of the chimp is pretty remarkable.

Remarkable enough, it seems, that Slater is trying to steal credit for it. And while this has set off an interesting debate online as to whether, and under what law, Slater might have copyright rights in the macaque’s work, I’m more curious as to what rights the macaque himself ought to have. Continue reading the full story . . . »

To Be or Not to Be…Crazy? Law Law Land Live-Tweets the Trial of Hamlet

This evening, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles will be staging “The Trial of Hamlet,” a unique opportunity for law geeks and Elizabethan England geeks to find common ground in mutual geekdom. [Important linguistic clarification: for our purposes, the term "nerd" refers to general intellectualism and personality, while "geek" refers to a more narrow area of interest/expertise/obsession, e.g., "Star Trek geek."] Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will preside over a trial determining the competency of Hamlet to stand trial for the murder of Polonius, with a jury including actors Helen Hunt and Tom Irwin making the final call.

While the event is (depending on your perspective, fortunately or unfortunately) sold out, if you’re interested and/or desperately looking for distractions while working late, Law Law Land’s esteemed editor will be live-tweeting the event from about 7:30 pm PST forward. Follow along at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ Twitter page.

[Correction!: As of 12:20 p.m. PST, tickets are still available here!]

[Correction, Part 2: Correction's Revenge!: OK, as of 12:30 p.m. PST, they're out again. Sorry.] Continue reading the full story . . . »

In the Next Edition, Huckleberry Finn Will Say That 2 + 2 = 5

As a fellow member of the Law Law Land blogging team, it may be wholly inappropriate for me to comment on Dan Nabel’s recent post “Billions of Bilious Blue Blistering Bowdlerizers! (And What Can Be Done About Them).” [Ed. Note: Nope, not inappropriate at all, Steve.] But when I read about publishing house NewSouth Books’ expurgatation of the word “nigger” from Huckleberry Finn, I could not but help think about Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. (Law Law Land: come for the legal analysis, stay for the literary exegesis!)

For those who have not read 1984 or who have forgotten it, allow me to explain. In 1984, Winston Smith is employed by the “Ministry of Truth,” which is a branch of the oligarchical, dictatorial, totalitarian, badsoundingadjective-ial, scaryword-ian government of Oceania. He works at the Ministry as an editor in the “historical revisionism” office, where his job consists of editing previously published works to replace true accounts of history with new, false histories intended to support the existing status quo (nerds might call this “retconning”). When he is done with the original document, he is required to drop it down the “Memory Hole,” an incinerator that is connected by a tube to his desk. The only past that may (and can) exist is a past that corresponds with the Party line. [Ever wondered about the distinction between “may” and “can”? Orwell dramatically demonstrates the difference in 1984. It is not that one alternative is permitted and one is not (i.e., may). Rather, it is that there is no alternative. “True” history is not even possible. History “can” be only as the Ministry says.] Those who respectfully disagree are executed, at which point it becomes Winston’s job to delete all references to them from the written record, so that no one can point to any evidence of the offenders ever having existed at all.

Which brings me to NewSouth Books’ version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s masterpiece is so in large part because of its history. This novel could not be written today. And, lucky for us, it was not written today. It was written in 1884. (Coincidentally, 100 years before the year — not the book — 1984.) Although the book is set in the Antebellum Era South, Twain was writing it years after the Civil War and just as Reconstruction was coming to an end. The book brutally satirizes the Old South and the sensibilities of its citizens. Twain portrays the stereotypical, slave owning southerners as buffoons. And he does that in large part through his unmatched use of Southern dialect. At the time, this dialect commonly used the word “nigger.” Twain used the word (in conjunction with the hundreds of other “Southern” words and phrases interspersed throughout the book) both to lend his characters a sense of authenticity and to make a sharp point — that the Old South’s view of slaves and slavery was immoral and ignorant. Continue reading the full story . . . »

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