from the paint-me-a-picture dept
At this point, we probably don't need any more evidence that the emergence of publicity rights and its conflation with other forms of intellectual property, such as copyright, is a festering cancer in our culture that we'd do well to excise post-haste. Still, necessity isn't the mother of these stories that keep on a-coming anyway. The most recent example of how stupid this all has become is a small Connecticut town taking down a donated painting that includes an image of Mother Teresa over intellectual property concerns. More frustrating is how neutered the press covering the issue is in competently discussing the validity of the issues being raised.
Trumbull officials have temporarily removed artwork displayed at the public library over concerns that the use of Mother Teresa's image in the painting infringes on copyright. The painting, which Dr. Richard Resnick donated to the library, shows Mother Teresa and other women marching, holding signs that say messages including "Planned Parenthood," "Mission of Charity," "Feed the Poor," "Remember The Ladies," "Hospital Reform" and "Right to Vote," among others.Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. Resnick had ownership of the painting when he donated it. There wouldn't be a valid copyright claim here even if the original artist was among those raising the issue, which doesn't appear to be the case. The library has every right to display the image. There aren't any copyright questions at all. All the reports this author has seen identify only "independent organizations" as claiming there is a copyright issue here at all. Should the actual claims center instead on publicity rights instead of copyright, that claim, too, would fail. First, there is no commercial use here. It is a painting rightfully owned and then donated to a municipality. Mother Teresa is a public and historical figure. And, again, there has been no indication that the estate of Anjeze Bojaxhiu, commonly known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, is among those raising the issue. There is simply no applicable intellectual property concern here.
However, it seems that everyone involved (perhaps including the reporter) has no clue about any of this:
"Our initial research has shown that there is a doctorate of ‘Fair Use’ which allows a party to depict even someone of a public nature when it’s not designed for any commercial purpose," he explained.It would be nice to be able to get a "doctorate" in "fair use" but it's likely the guy means (or even said) "doctrine." And while "commercial purpose" may have an impact on a fair use analysis it's not the only factor. But, more importantly, fair use isn't even an issue here because there's no copyright issue at all.
Which, of course, hasn't precluded Trumbull from pulling the painting proactively.
The town opted to remove the painting because the library lacks a written agreement with Resnick to protect the town against "any potential liability" from the copyright violation allegation, Herbst said.And, so, until such a time as the town and the donor can formalize a written agreement protecting themselves against all of this stupidity, stupidity prevails. It's hard to fault Trumbull officials too much for getting their protective documentation in place, I suppose. This is America, after all, the land of the lawsuit. Still, it's a tough pill to swallow to see a public entity bow even temporarily to the pressure of outside parties that have no standing, or apparent familiarity with the actual legal statutes they're pushing. Because, while none of the reports are naming the "independent organizations", everyone pretty much knows what's going on here. Resnick's attorney explains it nicely.
“After learning that the Trumbull Library Board did not have the proper written indemnification for the display of privately-owned artwork in the Town’s library, and also being alerted to allegations of copyright infringement and unlawful use of Mother Teresa’s image, upon the advice of legal counsel, I can see no other respectful and responsible alternative than to temporarily suspend the display until the proper agreements and legal assurances are in place,” Herbst said in a written statement.
Elstein speculates that the controversy may have more to do with Catholic leaders' recent objections to Mother Teresa being depicted alongside a woman holding a "Planned Parenthood" sign.Ah, so again intellectual property gets used to silence speech. Anyone still want to pretend that copyright and publicity rights aren't the favored tools of censors everywhere?