Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pondering a complicated art situation

For many years, I have enjoyed collage art, altered art, recycled art. The ecology bug hit me as a kid during the energy crisis of the '70s and it has stayed with me.

For many years, I have enjoyed making calendar photos into envelopes or other collage projects. When I worked at BigCo, I would go around in January and ask my fellow employees to give me their previous year's calendar. Many did so.

Our local nature center holds a fund raiser that sells recycled calendar envelopes among other recycled crafts. I have templates for making my own envelopes. I have re-wettable glue for envelope closures.

So this week, I was at the local mall, trolling for half-price 2007 calendars. As I looked at many of them, I noticed a sentence on the back cover.
The removal or reuse of these pages is strictly prohibited.

My mind tried to wrap itself around the many facets of copyright law and licensing and ownership and all. I frequent the websites of Lisa Vollrath and she is quite rightly protective of her designs and ideas.

She has made me wary of posting the ATCs I have received, for that is a photographic reproduction of someone else's work. I mentioned the posting when I sent the invitation, but Lisa's website advises that I should have written permission from each artist (whether or not they consider themselves artists) before posting their work on my site. Cumbersome, but I understand.

Part of my love of collage is putting together new ideas, joining two items in a new way, for a new point of view or a new statement. It seems odd to me to buy a booklet of reproduced ephemera to use in my art when I could have some actual ephemera. Found items.

Does it apply to art that I would sell? The I would give away? That I keep for only myself but post? That I make and keep to myself? This is yet another arena where technology is growing faster than ethics and law can keep up.

So now, calendars are expressly forbidding purchasers/possessors from altering they images for other purposes. Better they go to a landfill than to have another life. Did I buy the rights to enjoy the images and use the date tracking, but not the right to use that image?

In many cases, yes. I have the shed pages of an old page-a-day calendar with the art of Mary Engelbreit. It is easy to see that I cannot legally, ethically take a page of her art, trim it, glue it to an ATC, and call it mine. But if I start with her art, add glitter glue, a phrase from a magazine, a sticker from the teacher store. Now, is it my art? Legally, no. According to Lisa's site, I am using copyrighted images in my art. Even to make it for my own enjoyment on a wall in my house.

If the copyright expires, then it is a public domain image. Lisa takes many public images bought at flea markets and such, I assume, and tweaks them, gathers them, arranges them, and sells the collection as her own art. Her own work created that collection of found/purchased images.

Ron at Big Happy Funhouse also posts photos he has found or bought. Photos by ordinary people of ordinary things and everyday life events. Does his posting mean that he now owns the images? His cropping makes it his? Can I use an image from his site in art work of my own?

I was taken aback and disappointed in the announcement on the 2007 calendars. I can see that the artists and publishers want to preserve their rights to the images, but that restricts me in the art I want to do. Better that it is put in a landfill than put on a card.

I can still use my own art in my collages. Doodles, painted backgrounds, test printed from Word in a fun font (do fonts have copyrights?). Can I take text from a magazine? From a 1992 Harlequin romance? Very complicated.

I don't have the answers. But I would like to hear how it looks from your neck of the woods.


kimzyn said...

I'm not sure about the legalities but I wish it were like music or books, you can use snippets but if you borrow a large portion of the work it is plagiarism, you know? That seems logical. But the reality is that most reused artwork would not be found out and if it was the creators might simply tell you to take it down if they had a problem with it. Of course, you have your own conscience to placate!

Karen said...

Heidi, I've found that the safest solution is to take my own photos, draw my own pictures, paint my own paintings. You can do a lot of collaging from your own photos - just print them out yourself and add your own printed text. Or ... use a program like Photoshop and add the text on another layer. I've done that a lot. No copyright issues - no problem!