For a long time I was not really interested in, or familiar with, copyright concerns. I worked mainly with materials that I created myself, so it did not seem very relevant. However, since I began working also with found materials in the last couple of years, such questions started to pop-up. I admit that as an artist I find the ethic and moral aspects of re-use more interesting than legal formalities. I perceive it as part of a larger discourse on cultural appropriation, decolonization, privilege, etc. Personally I usually take the freedom to transform found elements and/or embed them in my work in order to make an independent statement without much hesitation (for instance in the self-made publication Present Absence, photographs of which I have published here on my first post). I did believe that since my work is mostly material, usually exhibited or performed in art-institutions, does not circulate online very much, and is neither of a high commercial value, I should not feel “threatened” by legal complications. I now understand however that this might has been naïve.
In several particular earlier cases I have asked permission to use graphic or film works from other artists (or their heirs), and also paid fees to archives to be able to use photographic materials they posses.
Our discussion and conversation with Maarten Zeinstra has been helpful in several aspects. First and foremost it has reminded and cemented the notion that copyrights work in both directions – as a restriction and protection – an issue I tend to forget, since I generally believe that nowadays it is very hard to protect one’s creations (or even distinguish them so strictly from creations of others). It also clarified to me that the responsibility to re-used materials is completely in the hands of the artist. Even when working with professional institutions and archives, that might believe to have certain rights on the sources they hold, it does not mean that they can transfer these rights to others. As an artist one thus should be aware of the regulations, make the necessary research and eventually take the decisions accordingly.
It was actually refreshing to realize that all myths concerning alleged conditions and possibilities of re-use are wrong. It makes the decision to violate or not to violate others’ copyrights (or in other words – “risk management”) clearer. Things appear to be more “black and white” than “grey” in this case!
To conclude, I would like to remind myself that despite the positive side of being more informed and having a detailed understanding of these issues, such discussions could also have as a result certain “self-censorship.” Constantly asking oneself what is allowed and what is not allowed, and the frustration involved in the complexities can have a “chilling effect” and possibly prevent from engaging with specific materials from the first place. In a broader sense it could mean that we “leave” the past untouched and unquestioned to a moment, in which it might already turn irrelevant.
Cover image reference
- A copy of a copy of a copy, Guy Königstein, 2014: photograph of a sketch for an artwork that imitates a specific monument from the public space inside a museum.