There is a wonderful argument between photographers being conducted over at Shutterstock. The argument is over whether or not photographers need release permission from graffiti artists to make sure they have the right to reproduce their copyrighted material.
The basic argument is well represented by comments such as:
I don’t think that graffiti need an “artist” (LOL) agreement for a reproduction. By definition it’s a public domain like piece of used gum on a sidewalk 🙂
I didn’t need a release for the grafitti photo’s I uploaded here. And I agree about it’s illegal to paint the walls, so the artists have no rights on their art.
A lone brave photographer Hilary Quinn is facing a barrage of angry photographers and trying to teach them the ins and outs of copyright law. But I couldn’t resist joining in. Unfortunately I needed to log into Shutterstock to be allowed to participate so I decided to fill in my arguments here since the log in procedure took too long.
Some of the arguments may have appeared here earlier in other versions.
First let me just get the artist debate out of the way. Some people feel annoyed by the term graffiti “artist”. I am not bothered. The way in which you choose to express yourself artistically is your own problem. There are artists who dabble in oils who do not deserve the term. It is not an honor to be termed artist – it is a designation of intent. By the way not too long ago it was considered unimaginable to call a photographer an artist.
1. Illegal activity and copyright
It does not matter whether or not you break into a building to paint a work of art. It does not matter if you steal the oils or other materials to create a work of art. It does not matter if you steal a camera to take a photograph. In each case copyright resides with the creator. Naturally in all cases the person may be prosecuted for his/her actions. But even if he/she is found guilty he/she still retains copyright in the work.
2. Who owns the work?
I would risk theory that the owner of property (wall) should have the copyright 🙂
The owner of the wall owns the original work. He/she has the right to destroy or sell it. A recent wall painted on by grafitti artist Banksy was sold on ebay for over 200 000 GBP. But the owner of the wall does not have the right to make reproductions of the work without permission from the artist.
I have written earlier about tattoos and copyright and highly recommend Hatcher’s article (2007). But the short version is that their is copyright in tattoos. The question is who the owner is? The artist? the person sporting the tattoo? the tattoo parlour? or the original artist if the tattoo is a copy of someone elses work? In addition to this there is an interesting question as to whether a collection of tattoos on the body can be seen as a work of art – like a collage.
What a great Friday afternoon argument!