This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
The United States Copyright Office is currently seeking feedback from visual artists and other copyright owners concerning a remedy for problems involving small claims copyright disputes. Point blank -- the United States Copyright Office wants to make it easier for artists -- and others -- to afford the legal process of protecting their copyrighted work in small claims cases. As ArtInfo recently pointed out, the result of this study -- which will involve the establishment of a small claims court --, will have "major implications" for artists who rely on appropriating materials from copyright owners (such as artists who appropriate from other artists without offering credit or compensation). All I can say is -- it is about damn time. Artists need to be able to affordably protect their art market when needed.
At this time most law firms won't take on a copyright infringement lawsuit unless there is a clear chance of winning the case AND the alleged infringement involves a large sum of money. After all, lawsuits involving copyright tend to eat up a lot of time -- and time is money. This is why we rarely hear about copyright infringement lawsuits unless a high profile artist or company (and therefore, BIG money) is involved. In other words, many alleged copyright infringers -- at this time -- will not see their day in court simply because the alleged infringement does not involve much profit. That said, their day in court may be coming sooner than later depending on the result of this study -- which is why it is important for YOU to offer feedback if you believe in strong copyright protection.
The result of this study could be a game-changer -- and triumph for copyright -- in that copyright owners will be able to legally pursue alleged copyright infringers with less financial risk involved . In other words, an artist will be able to affordably take legal action against an alleged copyright infringer who, for example, sold unauthorized prints of the copyright owners artwork. Another example -- if an artist is reproducing your paintings with minimal change (think of appropriation artists who adhere to a 'wide' interpretation of 'fair use') -- and profiting from it -- you will be able to affordably take legal action to protect your copyright. Point blank -- law firms will be more apt to take on small claims cases that involve copyright disputes. It will be easier, and cheaper, for the average copyright owner to 'go after' copyright infringers. (Note: I'm not suggesting that all appropriation artists are copyright infringers. That said, infringement can, and does, happen within that community of artists, if you will.)
If this study cultivates change in the law in regard to copyright small claims it will also make it more affordable for alleged copyright infringers to defend themselves in court. That said, it appears that some artists who rely on appropriation under the concept of 'fair use' (specifically those who have a 'wide' interpretation of the concept and are thus more likely to be challenged in court) are very uneasy about this study. Working under 'fair use' is a gamble once profit is involved -- and appropriation artists may pay the price if they fail to establish 'fair use' in small claims court. If this study spurs change by making it easier to seek copyright small claims it may have an end result of helping to put a tighter grasp on the concept of 'fair use' overall.
The United States Copyright Office has stated that the study is designed to:
(1) assess the extent to which authors and other copyright owners are effectively prevented from seeking relief from infringements due to constraints in the current system; and (In other words, they want to know if you have not pursued legal action to protect your copyright simply because you could not afford it.)
(2) furnish specific recommendations, as appropriate, for changes in administrative, regulatory and statutory authority that will improve the adjudication of small copyright claims and thereby enable all copyright owners to more fully realize the promise of exclusive rights enshrined in our Constitution. (In other words, they want your ideas on making this change happen -- and to establish it in a way that is both affordable and not as exhaustive time-wise once the case goes to court.)
If you believe in strong copyright I think it is vital to provide feedback to the United States Copyright Office at this time. The deadline for submitting your opinion is January 17, 2012. You only have a few days left at the time of this writing to take action. Over the years thousands of artists have contacted me about copyright issues -- and the majority involved small claims issues involving alleged copyright infringement. Those artists were unable to pursue their alleged infringers because it simply was not viable for them to do so under the current law (most were ignored when they sought help from a law firm -- again, law firms are not likely to consider small claims action under current law... for the most part, only BIG money cases are considered). It is time for ALL artists to be able to protect their copyright no matter how much profit is involved. The littles guys need to be able to defend their copyright against the other little guys AND the big guys.
In closing, small claims regarding copyright have went unchecked for the most part. I'm sure that most of us can think of an example of clear copyright infringement -- and an infringer who 'got away with it'. Copyright infringers know that they can get away with it as long as they don't earn much profit from the infringing artwork, product, what have you. They know that currently law firms won't take on a copyright infringement lawsuit unless it involves a lot of money. Thus, they go unchecked. This study may change that. The 'open season' on the art market that others have worked hard to establish may soon come to a close. Please click HERE for more information.
Take care, Stay true,