Monthly Archives: March 2013

Art surgery


The irony that Banksy’s anti-establishment art commands huge prices isn’t lost on him.

One of the best places to look for copyright-free images is the Creative Commons site. (It’s a copyright mantra I have.) Their licences often have generous terms and it’s usually possible to legally use Creative Commons images in blog posts and elsewhere on the internet.

But do Flickr users who upload images to their photostream then attach a Creative Commons licence to them actually own copyright in those images in the first place?

Here are the results of a search I did on the Creative Commons site for images with the keywords “Star Wars poster”. Notice how many of them include photos and logos from the films themselves. It’s 99.9999% certain that these are the intellectual property of Lucasfilm Ltd and not of the Flickr users who have uploaded them and presumptuously accorded them Creative Commons status.

The Pinterest site is one which allows its users to share images, videos and other resources. (It’s probably on a par with YouTube with its cavalier approach to copyright, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Here’s a Pinterest page of photos of graffiti art, all of it attributed to its most well known proponent. Banksy, for it is he, is famous for his contempt for copyright so he’s unlikely to be outraged that his work has been pinned to the site without his permission and so probably won’t be following Pinterest’s copyright complaints procedure any time soon.

A further issue though: how can we be sure that these works are his? They look as though they are but whose word do we have for this? We can’t be sure, and the covert nature of the Banksy operation doesn’t make it any easier. Even the man himself admits that in the past works which others have attributed to him are actually fakes and that some of these have even gone on to be sold for huge sums.

In a recent story we read that a Banksy mural has been removed from its original location in North London and is about to be auctioned in Miami. There are a number of interesting copyright issues here. It’s reasonable to suppose that Bansky would be within his rights to claim copyright  in his work just like any other artist. But is it OK for him to control the commercial exploitation of that art? Maybe the owner of the property on which Banksy left it would like to press criminal charges? Maybe he or she also now has some claims to the art? The Lexicology website has an interesting article which goes into more detail about these issues.

(Image: Creative Commons Licence via dullhunk? Or Banksy’s own?)
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