Art and Copyright: what can we learn from the past?

Posted on: October 29, 2018 by

Who does the modern law of copyright seek to protect? We are familiar today with the claim that artistic copyright protects artists and, perhaps, users of copyright works. Roll back 150 years, to the nineteenth century, and artistic copyright was also understood in a number of other ways, which are long forgotten today.

For instance, painting copyright was also conceived as a law for regulating and restricting artists: a means of preventing artists from repeating their own work in the same medium, which might impair a collector’s financial investment in a unique physical art object. Another long-forgotten function of artistic copyright, was to protect the image of celebrity sitters depicted in photographs: the intersection between photographic trade practice, magistrates court decisions and photographic technologies of the time, resulted in nineteenth century photographic copyright operating as akin to a publicity right, rather than concerned with a photographer’s intellectual creation.

This December sees the launch of a new book by a member of the Institute of Art and Law, Dr Elena Cooper, which uncovers these perspectives amongst others: Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image (published by CUP in August 2018) provides the first in-depth and longitudinal study of the history of copyright protecting the visual arts. The launch of will take place at the Victorian Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway, University of London, where Dr Cooper will draw on the impressive collection of nineteenth century paintings in the Gallery to illustrate the central themes of her research.

Dr Cooper will explore the value to lawyers and policy-makers today of historical viewpoints that lack authority and continuity with the present: in destabilising assumptions about what copyright has always been about, history can provide us with a heightened sense of the choices we make today, in turn sharpening the critical lens through which we view current copyright debates.

The launch will take place at 6.15pm on Wednesday 5 December 2018, Victorian Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway, University of London. If you are interested in attending, please contact Dr Cooper: Members of the Institute of Art and Law are warmly invited to attend and are entitled to a 20% discount on the price of a copy of a book (available for a limited time only – please contact Dr Cooper).

Posted by Emily Gould on behalf of the author, Dr Elena Cooper.

The IAL will once again be running its course on intellectual property in June 2019 in London: the Diploma in IP and Collections. Follow the link to register your interest or to apply.