Sculptor Of Pillar Of Shame Announces It's Now Public Domain So That Anyone Can Make A Copy, As Chinese Authorities Seek To Destroy It

from the public-domain-to-the-rescue dept

Last fall we wrote about how Chinese officials were looking to remove the “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture by artist Jens Galschi?t that commemorates China’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The sculpture was erected at the University of Hong Kong in 1997, and now that China has been wiping out every last bit of freedom in Hong Kong, the statue has been targeted as well. In our post last fall, we noted that (1) Galschi?t was threatening legal action if the statue is damaged, and (2) activists were making 3D scans of the sculpture so that it can be replicated.

Of course, while Galschi?t can (without much leverage) threaten legal action against China for removing the statue, some realized that the unfortunate state of copyright law today means he might also threaten legal action against those making replicas and copies from those 3D images. Thankfully, Galschi?t himself recognizes how problematic that is, and after receiving a bunch of requests has signed official paperwork relinquishing his copyright on the Pillar of Shame, thus putting it into the public domain:

To DR News, Jens Galschi?t says that he has had so many inquiries that he finally had to make a signed declaration in which he relinquished the right to the production of the sculpture and in which it is stated that any profits should be given to the democracy movement.

?Normally, artists will not give their art commercially free, but I have done so because the art must come out. And the sculpture is a reminder of the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the democracy movement, and human rights,? Jens Galschi?t adds.

Galschi?t does not appear to be your typical copyleft activist, and certainly notes his concerns about doing this, but seems to say that, when considering the alternatives, this makes the most sense:

?I could probably spin a fair deal of gold on this if I wanted to. But I?m not particularly interested in money,? Jens Galschi?t says.

He admits that he has taken a risk by revoking his copyright protection on the sculpture and big corporations or private companies could potentially abuse that.

?Yes. I?ve laid down with the devil, but that?s how it is when you are suddenly involved in big politics. It can not be avoided and that?s fine. I exploit them and they exploit me. It?s a mutual ?spanking?. But I actually do not feel this sculpture can be abused, because it is a symbol of keeping the memory of the massacre and Hong Kong alive,? Jens Galschi?t says and adds:

?The worst thing that could happen was if nothing happened and that no one cares about the ?Pillar of Shame?.

The article separately notes that he is still seeking to get the sculpture (safely) back from Hong Kong, where it remains in danger of destruction.

In some ways, it seems absolutely ridiculous that people should need for the artist to “relinquish” his copyrights in a scenario like this, but it is the unfortunate nature of copyright law today. Given that, it’s great to see the artist make such a decision, and recognize that the statement he is making is more likely to benefit not just himself but the larger world and society in the long run.

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Comments on “Sculptor Of Pillar Of Shame Announces It's Now Public Domain So That Anyone Can Make A Copy, As Chinese Authorities Seek To Destroy It”

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14 Comments
Frank Cox (profile) says:

Public art should be public

Shouldn’t public art actually be public?

If an artist accepts a commission to make a statue or obelisk for a park or a public square, shouldn’t the deal include the fact that the public art then belongs to those who paid for it, i.e. the public.

Same deal as copyrights on government publications, including software written for government use. Research papers paid for by grants funded by taxpayers. Etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Public art should be public

None of the statues in this art series were commissioned by anyone, much less a government.

This particular statue was a gift to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements for the 1997 Tiananmen memorial, and has never been paid for, or used by, a government.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Public art should be public

Which only supports Frank’s position. Copyright exists to incentivize creation by allowing monetary exploitation, which the artist has expressly stated isn’t the prupose or intent of the work, and he never exploited. The work was intended to be seen and shared by everyone in memory of a government attacking its citizens.

Shouldn’t that art be free, without needing the sculptor to authorize such sharing? Why does the sculptor have any say in our ability to see and share a sculpture he gave away as a gift? (other than to, perhaps cynically, demand his gift, the original work, back)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Public art should be public

The work was intended to be seen and shared by everyone in memory of a government attacking its citizens.

If instead of "government commission," the standard should be "the artist’s intentions for the work," what better way of identifying the artist’s intention than the artist saying "this work is free to use by anyone?"

Should we punish artists who talk about their work, embroil them in litigation over the nuances of everything they’ve ever said? Force artists to run everything by lawyers, carefully doling out non-incriminating sound bites instead of freely discussing their works?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Public art should be public

what better way of identifying the artist’s intention than the artist saying "this work is free to use by anyone?"

And if the artist should choose to renege that intention later on when it’s convenient?

Should we punish artists who talk about their work, embroil them in litigation over the nuances of everything they’ve ever said?

We already can, and we already do.

Force artists to run everything by lawyers, carefully doling out non-incriminating sound bites instead of freely discussing their works?

People with far bigger risk profiles already do that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Public art should be public

Why does the sculptor have any say in our ability to see and share a sculpture he gave away as a gift?

Why should a sculptor or any other artist, author, etc. have any say in what we do with the things they create? If they want money, they can do work on contract like my plumber does—it’s easier than ever to raise money for art. Afterward, we do what we want with it. That’s what’s happening anyway, and our pretending otherwise is a great cost and headache to everyone.

(Things like LibGen, Sci-Hub, archive.org, and Github give a glimpse of what things could be like. "Give ’em all the information in the world, and let history decide who becomes what.")

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You say that as if China would be honouring copyright law in the first place. I suspect that if that’s all that was standing between them and erasing this reminder from the planet without consequence, the original would already have been disposed of.

Also, Streisand Effect is still a thing and any attempt to silence the truth like that would simply result in it being more loudly communicated. China can control a lot of its internal access to the truth and influence some international reporting, but they won’t be able to stop thousands of dedicated independent artists from doing things to remind everyone of the original if they felt that necessary.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Atrocity memorials for all

Well that didn’t work out so well for china, they attempt to have a sculpture reminding people of their past destroyed and end up pushing the artist to allowing anyone and everyone to make a copy.

I look forward to seeing/hearing about the plethora of copies springing up all over the place rather than just a single college campus.

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