Wednesday, June 15, 2011

If it's too good to be true, it probably is

FRANCE. Remember that post about the electrician who was gifted 271 works by Picasso for a mere 3-years' worth of services rendered? Last December, French authorities seized the never-before-seen, unsigned and undated collages, sketches and prints pending investigation of their provenance and prosecutors have now charged the 71-year old and his wife with handling stolen goods. Can't say I'm that surprised, are you?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Détente in Anglo-Russian cultural relations leads to an increase in artistic exchanges

Statue of Yuri Gagarin (a copy of a
Russian original)
LONDON/MOSCOW. The serious tensions in political and cultural relations between the UK and Russia (stemming from the UK's insistence that Russia extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovo in connection with the murder of dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006) have eased leading to a greater exchange of art between the two countries. What started out as a rift in political relations soon spilled over into the cultural sphere as Russia increasingly misidentified the British Council as a political rather than a cultural institution. The Art Newspaper reports that "in late 2007, following the extradition row, the Russian authorities accused the British Council of evading tax and in December the council was ordered to shut its offices in St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. On 15 January 2008, the head of the St Petersburg office, Stephen Kinnock, was ­detained on alleged traffic ­offences. Later that year court action was taken to pursue tax payments." The tax evasion problems are said to have been resolved now though the normalisation of Anglo-Russian cultural relations is largely due to the lessening extradition pressures exerted by the coalition government compared with those by the former Labour government. The result: a line-up of exhibitions as well as the unveiling on July 14 of a statue of the "cosmonaunt" Yuri Gagarin outside the British Council's headquarters in London. Upcoming exhibitions include:
  • Antony Gormley at the Hermitage (from September).
  • British Council assistance with the Fourth Moscow Biennale of Con­temp­orary Art (22 Sep­tem­ber-30 October).
  • “William Blake and British Visionary Art” exhibition sent by the Tate to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art (from November).
  • Models by Anish Kapoor at Moscow's Museum of Architecture (from December).
  • Henry Moore exhibition at the Kremlin Museum (February 2012).
  • The Tate's “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde” exhibition expected to show at the Pushkin (June 2013).

Did Warner Bros. spend a quiver in its arrow by removing Tyson tattoo from "The Hangover Part II" DVD?

The latest development in the Tyson tattoo saga is that defendant Warner Bros. will digitally remove the copyrighted tattoo from the DVD version of  "The Hangover Part II." In legal documents filed Monday the studio said it did "not intend to make any use of the allegedly infringing tattoo after the film ends its run in the theaters because Warner Bros. will digitally alter the film to substitute a different tattoo on Ed Helms’s face." Tattoo artist S. Whitmill may have been denied the injunction he sought to prevent the release of the film in theaters (not surprising given how high the threshold is for a court to exercise its discretion and grant injunctive relief) but the copyright infringement claim is ongoing. Is it me or did the defendant just spend a quiver in its arrow in that litigation by voluntarily removing it from the DVD? And surely the studio doesn't really think that the proposed digital manipulation of the original feature film can remove the need to go to trial? Copyright infringement occurs each and every time a copyrighted work is used without permission of the copyright owner (whose rights over the work are exclusive) meaning the purported infringement cannot be "made right" by not reproducing the tattoo in the DVD.

For background on the Tyson tattoo copyright litigation, see here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Barnes Foundation stays in Merion... but the Renoirs, Cezannes and Picassos go to Philly

Barnes Foundation executive director and president Derek Gillman announced today that the Foundation will be investing "more than $300,000 to "revitalize" the 12-acre arboretum on the grounds of the former Barnes Collection home." He also said that the home will continue to house the Foundation's archives, which will be more available to scholars. But the announcement was more noteworthy for what the director did not say: that the art would be staying in Merion. The Renoirs, Cezannes and Picassos will move to Philly and the move is scheduled for July 3.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Can you copyright a tattoo? Legally-speaking, it's a legitimate question

ST. LOUIS. Given the litigious environment in which we live in, I suspect some of you are thinking that the copyright suit over the replica Mike Tyson tattoo in the film "The Hangover: Part II" is the latest in a long-list of frivolous suits that plague the legal system. However, as tattoos consecrate their place as "works of art," it was only a matter of time before tattoo artists attempted to claim and enforce an exclusive copyright over the original tattoo and now derivative works also (copyright protection extends to "derivative works" also).

To copyright a work, it must constitute an "original" but whether it's painted on a canvas, a wall or human skin is irrelevant. At the time S. Victor Whitmill created the original Tyson tattoo, he registered the copyright over the work and sought a release from Tyson relinquishing any rights he may have had over the tattoo and agreeing that Whitmill was the owner of the copyright. As such, Whitmill therefore had exclusive rights over any "derivative works," the tattoo in the film likely constituting as much. Not only does the design look strikingly similar, it's a direct reference to Tyson himself who appeared in the first film.
Mike Tyson and Whitmill's
Maori-inspired tattoo
The obvious defense for Warner Bros. (which they raised in their response) is to say that the tattoo in the film is "transformative" and its use to make a "parody" constitutes "fair use" ("parody" is widely held as coming within the six permissible uses in the Copyright Act -- a requirement that is often overlooked as attention is focused on the four-factor test in Section 107). The "fair use" defense embodies the balance at law between the copyright owner's rights and the need to not "stifle creativity," parting from the reality that nowadays almost all works of art are inspired by to a greater or lesser extent by existing works. The main obstacle for the defense will be to overcome the hurdle of the first factor: whether the use of the reproduction is "commercial" or "educational." Technically, federal courts are to weigh the four factors equally in determining whether a particular use is "fair" or not but in practice, the first factor is invariably given significantly greater consideration compared to the other three (some commentators have even argued that the first factor is "definitive"). The fact that Warner stood to reap huge profits from the film will likely not bode well with Judge Catherine D. Perry and if the use is held to be copyright infringement and not "fair," Whitmill will be entitled to the profits derived from the infringing use (among other damages). How the court would decide what part of the profits were derived from the infringing use and should therefore be disgorged though is unclear. I guess the simplest way would be to calculate the total time the replica tattoo is on the screen for as a proportion of the total running time of the film and use that percentage when awarding damages. But odds are we'll never know as the case will probably settle before we get to the sentencing stage.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Fighting forgery: Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation organizes authentication conference (19-21 June)

The Art Newspaper reports that the Dalí Foundation is hosting a conference on the authentication of works and "fighting forgery through the courts" at Dalí’s summer home and museum a few hours away from Barcelona. Scheduled speakers include Judith Goldman, a member of the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, and Veronique Wiesinger, Director of the Fondation Giacometti (the Swiss artist having recently been the object of one of the largest scale forgeries in history). For more information, see here (unfortunately registration is now closed).