Cultural Insanity: You Can't Show A Painting In A Movie Without Paying The Copyright Holder

from the this-makes-no-sense dept

The NY Times has an article about yet another ridiculous bit of copyright law, the fact that moviemakers have to license artwork, even if they own the physical piece to show it in a movie. And it gets even worse, when you find out that the ridiculous position of the Artists Rights Society (think the RIAA/MPAA for artists) is that the newly released 3D version of Titanic needs a new license, because its use of artwork is somehow not covered by the original license:
It is there in the new 3-D version of “Titanic,” as it was in James Cameron’s original film: a modified version of Picasso’s painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” aboard the ship as it sinks.

Of course that 1907 masterpiece was never lost to the North Atlantic. It has been at the Museum of Modern Art for decades — which is precisely the reason the Picasso estate, which owns the copyright to the image, refused Mr. Cameron’s original request to include it in his 1997 movie.

But Mr. Cameron used it anyway.

After Artists Rights Society, a company that guards intellectual property rights for more than 50,000 visual artists or their estates, including Picasso’s, complained, however, Mr. Cameron agreed to pay a fee for the right to use the image.

With the rerelease of “Titanic,” the society wants Mr. Cameron to pay again, asserting that the 3-D version is a new work, not covered under the previous agreement.
Of course, I recognize that ownership of the image is different than holding the copyright in the image -- though I'm a bit surprised that most art purchases don't include a copyright assignment or at least a permissive license as well. But it strikes me as ridiculous that the use of such images in a movie -- especially in passing -- isn't a clear case of fair use. This highlights the ridiculousness of the "permission-based society" we live in, where even if you own something, you don't really own it.

Why do we let this kind of craziness happen? Why don't we, as a society, stand up and point out that it makes no sense. If you have possession of the painting, why shouldn't you be allowed to use it in a movie? Even if you don't have the painting. How is having that painting in the movie, in any way, harming the economic value of the painting? The answer is that it is not. If anything, it's increasing the prestige and value of the painting... and it's doing all of that for free.

Think of it in a slightly different context. These days, when other products are seen in movies -- like a can of Coke, for example -- it's often there because of product placement. That is, the provider paid for it to be in the movie. Couldn't you make an argument that artwork that shows up in movies gets the same sort of benefit of the attention of the moviegoers? Why is it, then, that filmmakers are expected to pay a license to have the artwork, but get paid to have the Coke can?

Filed Under: 3d, artwork, fair use, licensing, moma, picasso, titanic


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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 26 Apr 2012 @ 2:26pm

    Re:

    People know it's not fair. They just hope it can work in their favor some day.


    Indeed. I think it cuts even deeper, too. Thsi type of response comes from people who feel powerless and hopeless to improve their situation. They're saying that they don't think the injustice can ever be resolved. If you have to live in a world where an injustice is inevitable, then your friend's perspective is about the only (albeit weak) method of defense from it.

    We frequently see it here from the maximalists who don't care if they're shafting innocent people because they think the someone will inevitably get shafted and they're just trying to make sure it's not them.

    We also see it from the handful of people here who say that because the big copyright holders behave so terribly they will just pirate their copyrighted materials. It's the exact same line of reasoning.

    The plain truth is that nothing is inevitable. Injustice can be, and historically is, resolved. It takes a lot of time and effort -- typically spanning generations -- but that time and effort can bring us to a place where the injustice is reduced for everybody instead of just pawned off on our neighbor.

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