With Legal Gray Areas, Art Heists Go Digital

Point-and-click age makes for murky copyright arguments
By Wesley Oliver,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 30, 2009 3:56 PM CST
Artist Jeff Koons has been sued twice by photographers for copyright infringement, the first time in 1989 in a case that he lost and the second time where he prevailed.   (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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(Newser) – A disconnect between the artistic and legal communities is reigniting the debate over copyright infringement, the Wall Street Journal reports. The law says an artist can adapt an existing work only if the resulting piece is “transformative,” or provides a new spin. “It’s meant to be a gray area,” explained an attorney. “The copyright law is designed to be flexible.” But in an age of easy downloads, the issue is coming to a head.

Complicating matters is the notion of trying to apply legal definitions to the not-so-firm artistic definition of what it means to transform something. When is it a legitimate move in the name of art and when is it just stealing? “It is very much a visual thing, and there is no bright line that artists can go by,” said the attorney. Over the last 20 years, judges have favored artistic license, but another copyright lawyer warns, “Maybe it has gone too far.”