Views from the Studio: Copyright and the Regulation of Artists

The CREATe Studio met last Thursday, 3 December 2015, to hear a research presentation from its third speaker of the term: Dr Elena Cooper, CREATe Postdoctoral Researcher in Copyright Law, History and Policy, University of Glasgow. Elena is currently completing her first monograph – Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image – that explores long forgotten perspectives on artistic copyright, dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The studio presentation explored the complex relation between the physical art object and the intangible work in nineteenth century debates on painting copyright. This complexity resulted from a nineteenth century view of copyright as a law to be used against artists; a law to restrict the activities of artists that were thought to damage the economic value of the physical painting owned by a collector. In exploring this facet of the copyright debates, the presentation uncovered the interplay between the debate of copyright concepts and the nineteenth century taxonomy of the copy, casting light on ideas and subtle distinctions lost during the course of the twentieth century.

The presentation provoked lively discussion from academics and students alike. Burrow and Rahmatian noted the more general historicity of cultural categories, such as ‘authorship’. Sundara Rajan noted the different way in which the law today (through the resale right or droit de suite) enables authors to share in the value of the tangible. Singh drew the discussion to the significance of copyright history in terms of current societal impact; as the presenter explained, amongst other things, an historical perspective enables us more critically to examine concepts we might otherwise accept as a given.

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