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Copyright, Borrowed Images and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach

Copyright, Borrowed Images and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach

Landes, William M., "Copyright, Borrowed Images and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach" (December 2000). U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 113.

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Abstract

    This paper examines from the standpoint of economics the relationship between copyright law, borrowed images and the post-modern art form known as appropriation art. Artists and judges have very different views regarding how the law should treat appropriation art. The artist perceives legal restraints on borrowing copyrighted images as a threat to artistic freedom. The law gives artists no special privileges to borrow copyrighted material. Although there are no market impediments to licensing most copyrighted images, fair use would lower transaction and access costs. These cost savings should more than offset the reduced incentives to create new images in cases where the appropriation artist has already paid for the image or is making only a few copies. In contrast, when the appropriation artist makes many copies, he should be treated no differently from a firm that incorporates licensed images in products such as calendars, coffee mugs and beach towels.

Facts on copyright

  • Copyright (international symbol: ©) is a set of exclusive rights granted by governments to regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally "the right to copy" an original creation. In most cases, these rights are of limited duration.
  • Copyright is a type of intellectual property. Designs or industrial designs may be a separate or overlapping form of intellectual property in some jurisdictions. Copyright law only covers the particular form or manner in which ideas or information have been manifested, the "form of material expression". It is not designed or intended to cover the actual idea, concepts, facts, styles, or techniques which may be embodied in or represented by the copyright work.
  • Copyright law provides scope for satirical or interpretive works which themselves may be copyrighted. Authors, patrons, and owners of works throughout the ages have tried to direct and control how copies of such works could be used once disseminated to others. Mozart's patron, Baroness von Waldstätten, allowed his compositions to be freely performed, while Handel's patron (George I, the first of the Hanoverian kings) jealously guarded "Water Music.".

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