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Artnet News
July 12, 2011 

Copyright should protect artists, not encourage them to victimize their less-successful colleagues. But "copyright shakedown" -- the term is courtesy NEWSgrist blogger Joy Garnett -- is exactly what it looks like in two recent cases, where artists used the threat of copyright lawsuits to clamp down on artistic freedom, and extract payments from their victims as well.

In one example, Los Angeles programming artist Andy Baio recorded a synthesized cover album of Miles DavisKind of Blue, using for his cover art a heavily pixilated version of an iconic image of Miles playing the trumpet. Though Baio licensed the songs, he didn’t think to obtain permission to copy the photo, which was originally snapped by a photographer named Jay Maisel.

Maisel came after him with a lawyer, and somehow convinced the hapless musician to pay a $32,500 settlement. On his blog, Baio wrote, “It breaks my heart that a project I did for fun, on the side, and out of pure love and dedication to the source material ended up costing me so much -- emotionally and financially.” Baio had donated all proceeds from the album sales to the performing musicians.

Maisel has reaped a certain amount of negative publicity along with his cash windfall. A group of street artists recently tagged Maisel’s graffiti-covered Bowery building with three of Baio’s images -- copies of the copy -- this time slapped with a line that read “All Art Is Theft.”

“I hope that every time Jay leaves the house, he sees these posters,” one of the anonymous artists said, according to the blog Hyperallergic. “Maybe he’ll realize that at some level all art borrows from other art, and suing another artist for fair use appropriation undermines all artists.”

Clearly, the copyright law needs to be amended to limit damages to the amount of an ordinary licensing fee.

In a similar case, Seattle photographer Mike Hipple has settled a copyright lawsuit brought against him by artist Jack Mackie for an undisclosed sum. Hipple had made a photograph that included some of Mackie’s artwork -- bronze dance-steps embedded in a sidewalk -- and sold it to a stock photo agency. Mackie was reportedly seeking in the neighborhood of $60,000.

Now, some people might think that the image of dance steps on the sidewalk is hardly original enough to be copyrightable, but rather than contest the lawsuit, Hipple gave in. "The financial stakes are such that it is not worth continuing to fight," Hipple wrote on his blog. Mackie has apparently won a similar court case in the past, suing the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in 1999 for using images of his work in its marketing material. He won $1,000.

A new contemporary art gallery, C24, is opening at 514 W. 24th Street with the prescient exhibition, “Double Crescent: Art from Istanbul and New Orleans,” Sept. 9, 2011-Oct. 22, 2011, guest-curated by Dan Cameron, artistic director of the upcoming Prospect New Orleans Biennial, Oct. 22, 2011-Jan. 29, 2012, and former curator of the Istanbul Biennial, the 12th edition of which opens Sept. 17-Nov. 13, 2011.

Co-founded by four Turks -- internet impresario Emre Kurttepeli and his wife, Maide Kurttepeli, and Soyak Holding Companies chairman Erkut Soyak and his wife, Asli Soyak -- along with New York attorney Mel Dogan, the gallery is no doubt keyed into Istanbul’s flourishing art scene, which is now home to the new Art Beat Istanbul fair, Sept. 14-18, 2011, at the Lütfi Kirdar Convention and Exhibition Center; new high-profile galleries Arter, SALT and Paul Kasmin Gallery; and, according to a recent article in Time magazine, a burgeoning class of young collectors.

The exhibition, which compares the colonial European roots of the two port cities, includes works by Ali Kazma, Hale Tenger, Ayse Erkman, Gülsün Karamustafa, Nazim Ünal Yilmaz, Dave Greber, collaborative duo Generic Art Solutions, Regina Scully, Bruce Davenport, Jr., and Skylar Fein.

Apart from the inaugural exhibition, director Kristen Lynn Johnston, formerly of BodhiNewYork and Michael Werner Gallery, plans to devote the 9,000-square-foot space to contemporary art “from beyond the usual circle of U.S. and European cities,” according to a press release, focusing instead on global capitals like Mumbai, São Paulo and, of course, Istanbul.

Plans in the Netherlands to gut the nation’s arts budget have incited a wave of demonstrations, a quarter-page ad in the New York Times that read “Do Not Enter the Netherlands, Cultural Meltdown in Progress” and, earlier this year, the resignation of Hermitage Amsterdam founder and director Ernst Veen. Protestors in Terschelling, Rotterdam and at The Hague decried the proposed €200 million cuts, about a quarter of the nation’s cultural spending, to be implemented by Jan. 1, 2013, the Art Newspaper reports.

Now, State Secretary of Culture Halbe Zijlstra, who has spoken out against public arts funding in the past, has ignored urging from the government’s Arts Council to reduce the cuts instead to €125 million and spread it out between 2013 and 2015. It has yet to be determined exactly how the cuts will take effect, but experts expect the move will shutter a number of cultural institutions and decrease funding for artists.

Hey, didn’t we send Rocco Landesman to the National Endowment for the Arts to bring a little progressive enlightenment to the benighted arts agency? Well, if Barack Obama can’t do it, why should a Broadway theater producer be able to?

What the hell are we talking about? It’s NEA’s new "Our Town" grants, 51 awards totaling $6.6 million and earmarked for. . . okay, get ready for some art bureaucratese. . . "projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core." You know, it can be tough running an arts-funding program in a Republican-dominated town.

Anyway, one grant-winner is ArtPrize, the Michigan organization that splits roughly $450,000 in prizes among ten artists, with a munificent top prize of $250,000. NEA gave ArtPrize no less than $100,000, in part to develop a mobile phone app for the program. As previously reported in this space, ArtPrize is headed by Amway heir Rick DeVos and funded by the foundation set up by his parents, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation. The fortune started with the grandfather, Richard DeVos (b. 1926), the billionaire co-founder of Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic and 79th wealthiest person in the U.S. in 2011, according to Forbes.

Now, the question is, as a Tea Partier might put it, does the taxpayer really need to be giving that government money to ArtPrize? Amway has been called the most successful direct-selling organization in the world, and has also been accused of being a pyramid scheme. The Devos Foundation supports an astonishingly wide range of conservative causes.

For a complete list of NEA "Our Town" grants, click here.

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