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August 05, 2009


Anji Pratap

Yasmin, I thought this was really well put. I find it very hard to get this message across to others.

I must go down to the bookshop again, though, because I seem to remember reading a Banksy copyright line in one of this books that said something like 'Against my better judgment my publishers have advised me to assert my copyright'. This was a few years ago and the philosophical tensions in the line struck me at the time: publishing a book yet shying away from copyright. I wonder if he still uses that line because, as you say, he seems to have an instinctive appreciation of the fundamentals of copyright.

Lior H.

Dear Yasmin,

I really enjoyed reading your entry and I think that the argument put here is very good.

At the same time, I think that the case for copyright is not always that straightforward. The point is that empirical evidence with regard to the impact of copyrights (and some other IPRs) on trade, investment, as well as innovation and its diffusion is indeed positive, yet quite limited and not strong. Hence, theoretical and plausible reasons are abundant but the empirical case is still lacking.

A particular point of interest here is the distribution of costs and benefits that result from copyright protection.

A good book I recommend on the issue is Keith Maskus' "Intellectual Property Rights in the Global Economy, Institute for International Economics". I think that it was published in 1999 or 2000.

Nick Miller

I certainly agree that dealing with the current maelstrom in the world of IP from a bottom-up perspective is necessary. Information has become too "free" as a result of broadband connections, P2P downloading sites and tech-savvy consumers to truly attempt to combat it through litigation alone. Just ask the RIAA and MPAA.

That being said people will only buy what they perceive to be of value. Banksy is helping to draw this parallel by creating a conversation with the person photographing his work. He's saying, "If you think this is cool enough to take a picture of, don't you think it's worth paying for in the gift shop in another format?" The onus then shifts to the consumer to do "what's right."

Education is a key component of any successful campaign to protect intellectual property. Producers of content also have an emerging role in connecting with their fans and encouraging them to attain copyrighted materials through legitimate channels. It may not be ideal but the fans will react to an artist more readily than an attorney or record label executive.

Yasmin Joomraty

Thank you for your interesting comments.

Anji, I will be heading to the bookshop to look up the copyright notices in Banksy's books to see if they have changed over time! It is interesting to consider that not only are there tensions between consumers' expectations of and rightsholders' approaches to copyright but there are also tensions within individual artists' perceptions of their own rights (as demonstrated by Banksy "publishing a book yet shying away from copyright").

Lior H, I will endeavour to get my hands on the book you recommend as, being an economic right, I agree that the 'case for' copyright should be supported by empirical evidence, which will change over time, in order for people to respect it. However, this should not undermine the moral rights to which artists are entitled, which provide a different way of looking at the system.

I think you have hit the nail on the head, Nick, by stating that "people will only buy what they perceive is to be of value" and "producers of content also have an emerging role in connecting with their fans and encouraging them to attain copyrighted materials through legitimate channels."

Yishay Mor

Yasmin, very timely and well-written post. I definitely agree that there is an acute need for promoting awareness of intellectual property in the digital age. In fact, I would argue that this topic should be part of school curriculum.
However, I think you're confusing the ethical principle of creative ownership with the legal structure of copyright.
The example you bring of Bansky's license notes are a good example of copyleft or creative commons approach.
While few would argue against the need to protect the rights of artists and other producers of creative work, it is seriously debatable what effect current copyright laws have toward this goal. One could argue that these laws protect corporations and intellectual property traders more than the creators of content, and in this actually stifle creativity and lead to a commodisation of intellectual effort.

Yasmin Joomraty

Interestingly, I have just noticed an article on the ICO website saying that the contract between Banksy and Bristol City Council has been made public under the Freedom of Information Act, revealing that Banksy accepted a nominal fee of just £1 in return for his hugely successful exhibition at the City Museum and Art Gallery. Whereas the fee was nominal, the confidentiality provisions were watertight, with the contract including obligations to destroy CCTV footage of the artist installing the exhibits and redacting all indicators of his identity. This seemed to me to further illustrate Banksy's business strategy which is, as an artist, based on copyright, but which pulls other factors into play, such as clever manipulation of his 'brand' and media identity. It is a 'big picture' approach which focuses on accessibility rather than restrictions.

davy crockett

I am interested to read your comments on banksy copyright in particular. Much of his artwork is displayed in public on the walls of buildings etc often belonging to local authorities. This ,I believe renders his copyright null and void as the artwork is in the public domain. Am I now correct in thinking that should I photograph the art then I would own the copyright to my own photograph irrespective of the contents of that same photograph. Should I then sell the photograph for profit would Banksy be within his rights to a portion of that profit?

Yasmin Joomraty

Despite the fact that Banksy may display certain of his works in public for free, that does not deprive those works of copyright protection. Works only fall into the 'public domain', thereby losing copyright protection when the term of copyright expires - currently 70 years after death of the artist/author of such works.

When you take a photograph, in most cases you will be the owner of the copyright in that photograph. However, if the photograph effectively reproduces one of Banksy's murals, he will also have certain rights in respect of the copyright in his 'underlying work' contained in your photograph. This means that if you intend to exploit that photograph commercially, you will need his permission.

If that's what you intend to do, you should seek legal advice (which, of course, this is not). You might find the factsheets on www.dacs.org.uk useful - this is the website for 'The Design and Artists Copyright Society'.

davy crockett

Thank you for your comments. I strongly suspect that you are correct but I cannot believe that all of the sellers on ebay etc have sought permission from banksy. Indeed by his very nature we supposedly do not know who he is and indeed it would be difficult for him to actually prove they are all his works anyway unless he has been filmed doing the work, which I doubt. I did take legal advice on this matter which does conflict with your comments somewhat so it is difficult to know exactly where one stands should push come to shove.i.e. a court case. I have always understood that Banksy was keen to allow the public to use his images provided they acknowledged the artist. I would dearly like to use his images but despite my best efforts he remains elusive.

Yasmin Joomraty

Hi there - good to hear from you again. Sellers on auction sites are not known for their observance of copyright or trade mark laws! I suppose there is a difference between the strict legal analysis of the potential for a claim (i.e. applying the law) and the reality of the risk (i.e. applying the facts). In this case, Banksy's approach to encouraging use of his works would be a factor to consider. As would his covert style of creating those works. Again, none of the above constitutes legal advice. All the best in your artistic endeavours.

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