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Challenging art copyright

Jeff Koons, the pop artist known for making art objects from every day objects, has demanded that a shop in San Francisco stops selling book-ends that look like balloon dogs. This is because once he made art out of such objects. The logical extension of his objection is that anyone who makes or sells a balloon dog infringes on Koons’ copyright. This demand has been reported widely this week in the media: well summarised on the excellent Boing Boing blog.
So, what does this mean? That any artist reinterpreting an object made by someone else takes over its copyright? Copyright is a complex area but this particular assertion seems pretty clearly array. Contemporary art challenges copyright continuously. The Chapman brothers bought a suite of Hogarth etchings and drew over them, was this still Hogarth’s work, or the Chapmans? Artists frequently re-use photographs by others in their art. Artists appropriate each other art works simply to make artistic statements: Roisin Byrne ‘the Irish thief’, did this and was made infamous by the BBC 4 programme But is it Art? which followed Goldsmiths art students developing their practice. Gap have recently been highlighted for possible re-use of a designer’s image in a T shirt in Emma Correll’s blog, without any acknowledgement or permissions. Another blog youthoughtwewouldn’tnotice encourages artists and designers to report unacknowledged IP use.
As artists we are all influenced by others, re-use ideas, techniques and even symbols and references already applied by other artists, often in homage to them. This is not copyright theft but there is a fine line: can you think of any other examples of debatable art copyright situations?

Posted by author: Jane Parry
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5 thoughts on “Challenging art copyright

  • Furthermore, isn’t making even an exact copy of one of Koons’ balloon dogs and re-contextualising it as a book end transformative in terms of copyright law. I’m thinking maybe his name hasn’t been in the news enough for selling multi-million dollar art recently!

  • I had initially assumed that the claim was, in itself, a parody and extension of Koons’s work. Still not sure that it isn’t – it’s so bizarre. But life is strange, and people sometimes stranger.

  • I suppose the difference between the actual balloon dogs as made by clowns and the Jeff Koons version is that the orginal is made with balloons and the Jeff Koons version isn’t. So on that basis you could argue the bookends are more like the Jeff Koons version that the original balloon dog. A bookend made from real balloons wouldn’t be very practical to use!

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