Copyright: Who owns Mickey?

Call me a libertine, but I’m pretty open about the spread of images and their appropriation and reuse. So is this website Illegal Art, featuring projects like Ashley Holt’s Notmickey above. The art projects featured there have run into trouble for infringing copyright, and usually it’s with corporate entities who wish to protect and retain the only rights to Mickey Mouse, Viagra, or Starbucks. At some point, I would think cultural icons become public property rather than corporate property. I’m not sure where that point is.

The thing is, copyright protects individuals as well as corporations. The artists might feel differently were I to take their projects, like Notmickey, and claim them as my own and use them to create ads for Disney or sell t-shirts. (Or maybe they wouldn’t.)

At any rate, the Illegal Art website has some really interesting projects to illuminate these theoretical issues. My favorite? Four years ago, University of Iowa professor Kembrew McLeod trademarked the phrase “Freedom of Expression”–then hired a lawyer to sue for infringement.

3 thoughts on “Copyright: Who owns Mickey?

  1. NPR™ had a clip recently about a Pez™ museum being sues by Pez™ because they had a giant Pez™ constructed for their lobby. Pez™ sued because it was not an authorized Pez™ product. So much for Freedom of Expression™

  2. Is a drawing of “Bert” being hanged really such a enlightening comment on contemporary culture? Even the drawing skills are average on that one. I admit I only viewed the Visual entries at the Illegal website. My reaction for each example was “Oh, I get it.” or “I don’t get it.” Not much more to think about.

    Some artists just have to get creative, don’t they? And I suppose going to court can be an educational and entertaining experience. It makes the time and expense so worthwhile. And I suppose being taken to court proves that one is an important artist. Great career move. (What was the name of that guy who made a collage layering the Virgin Mary with elephant dung? And did Mary authorize the portrait?) Okay, Richard Prince, Jeff Koons. But do they really enjoy their lives? I wouldn’t.

    A corporation’s copyright persists for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter. Give up, artists. Do you really want to wait that long or take the chance that you may win against a corporate lawyer?

    Clever artists, you can make more money and even become famous by gaining the rights to use the copyrighted material. Disney, for instance, asks that you to let them approve the final product created from an authorized selection of character drawings. And you can slot them right into your own artistic compositions (also requires approval). I work for an artist who does this. The work is shown in galleries around the world under the artist’s name. There’s a tiny Disney copyright mark on the left. The artist makes a ton of money. Disney gets a cut, of course.

    In the US copyright law extends seventy years after the death of an artist. But there are plenty of old dead people to goof on even now(but not Elvis, yet). You can really make some clever art using old dead artist’s work as subject matter and their dead subjects, too. See what Marcel Duchamp did to Leonardo and Mona Lisa? Good stuff! But don’t go dissin’ Duchamp yet. He’s only been dead forty years.

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