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.