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Sinatra  Montage

artwork by Lon LevinWritten by Lon LevinThe question posed by the headline is perhaps a dicey one.This from the NY Times March 21, 2011, A federal judge in Manhattan has ruled against the artist Richard Prince in a closely watched copyright case, finding that Mr. Prince – who is well known for appropriating imagery created by others – violated the law by using photographs from a book about Rastafarians to create a series of collages and paintings.The decision, handed down on Friday by Judge Deborah A. Batts, found in favor of Patrick Cariou, a photographer whose book “Yes Rasta,” featuring portraits he took during several months in Jamaica, was published in 2000. According to the suit, Mr. Prince used 41 or more of the pictures from the book as the basis for a body of work he called “Canal Zone,” which was shown in St. Barts and in a 2008 exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. A gallery that was planning to show Mr. Cariou’s photographs canceled that exhibition after learning that Mr. Prince had already created works based on the photographs. Mr. Prince has argued that his use of the photographs should be allowed under fair-use exemptions to copyright protections, which allow limited borrowing of protected material for purposes like commentary, criticism, news reporting and scholarship. But Judge Batts wrote that for fair-use exceptions to apply, a new work of art must be transformative in the sense that it must “in some way comment on, relate to the historical context of, or critically refer back to the original works” it borrows from.Herein lies the dilemma. In reference to my piece that features multiple pictures of Sinatra taken by various photographers am I referring back to the originals in a critical way or transforming it in some way as to comment on it? I think so but I am not convinced of that so much that I would market the art. That being said as a one off original I'd have no problem selling it as I am not turning it into a business of selling prints. I believe that is in the spirit of Rauschenberg and the commentary is analogous.artwork by Lon Levin

In my second piece of Jimi Hendrix I used my own photograph taken at a concert at the Forum in LA when I was a high schooler. I combined that with other photographs and added lyrics from Hendrix’s songs. Does this violate copyrights? I don’t think so. I believe this has transformed the secondary photographs and the lyrics to create a new entity. Now I haven’t marketed this image either not so much because I think it’s a violation of copyright but I feel it may be arguable and hence a photographer who feels like suing me could drag me through the courts at a cost to me that makes the whole endeavor worthless. As I stated in a response to Linkedin post by Randall Kramer “the lawyers win”.

As a person who creates artwork every day and accesses scrap material on the internet I have no problem with anyone using my work as inspiration, scrap etc. If they out n’ out copy my work and represent as their own then I have a problem. But that is tempered by my knowledge (my sister is a copyright attorney) that unless you have the will and the money you may end up on the short end of the stick even if you are right.

I don’t think this is an issue that is going away or one that will be solved or resolved easily and I applaud creatives like Randall for taking up the fight and opening up discussions. But if he or any other creatives have fears or anger that their work is being exploited and stolen then take precautions about it. Watermark your work or do not  allow access without a password. Complaining about “young people” stealing your sh*t” to quote Randall is like getting angry at some who steals your car when you left the door open and keys in the ignition. Get real. The internet is here with all the good, bad and the ugly that comes with it.