Teaser, and copyright

More underpainting today... all day. This one's another teaser from the upcoming batch of small paintings. Really good when I get more excited than usual about my current efforts. As a reminder, this is just the first step, not the finished painting.

I recently heard about a plan by the agency that oversees Egyptian antiquities to copyright the images of the pyramids, and demand payment for use of these images. Any funds received through this scheme would be applied to the preservation of historical monuments throughout the country. I think that's a fine and laudable goal, and a much better use of the money than, say, a new weekend villa for Hosni Mubarak. But the whole plan still seemed sleazy because of its utter misuse of the intention of copyright. Oh, and it's essentially unenforceable outside of Egypt.

Copyright basically exists to protect the intellectual property and financial interests of individual creators and their immediate heirs. After a certain amount of time (generally less than 100 years), those people with a direct stake in the work are usually no longer around, and the work passes into the public domain; it's owned by humanity at large. It's why, for instance, there's so much great literature freely available at Project Gutenberg and Librivox. It just strikes me as a real perversion of this principle to try to slap a copyright on objects created 4300 years ago, and for which clearly no one individual has a direct financial interest.

Anyway, this is all from the simplistic moral point of view, and the law is always more complicated than that. I worked for a number of years at a company that specifically dealt with copyright issues (Copyright Clearance Center, see below). I was in the technology group as a software developer, but I did have a number of conversations about copyright principles with people who really knew their stuff. Some of the details, subtleties, and exceptions seemed absolutely mind numbing. It left me with the impression that if I were ever seriously worried about any copyright issue, I'd pretty much have to consult an attorney.

I think for most artists (myself included), being unknown is a much greater career threat than copyright infringement; I don't personally expend a lot of energy watermarking my images and so forth. Nevertheless, it's generally a good idea for artists to have an overview of copyright issues, and know where to look for more answers. Here are a few of the obvious ones:

U.S. Copyright Office
Wikipedia entry on copyright
Copyright Clearance Center

And for some alternative points of view:
Cory Doctorow article
Creative Commons

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