Art is Not Free

It is Tuesday morning at 4:30 a.m. and I have just posted my blog for the day, but here I am starting a new one for Thursday, because I am waist deep in the comments section on my local news station’s Facebook. Here is a link to the article that folks are talking about.

To summarize very briefly, a businessman took pictures in front of the local mural and posted them on his professional website. The artist of the mural then sent a bill to the businessman, citing copyright infringement. A few things to note: firstly, the businessman is not the man who owns the building- that man offered the artist the wall for free to paint upon, just FYI. Secondly, the businessman never received a cease and desist letter. Now, it could be argued that the businessman is not necessarily using the mural to sell anything, although it could also be argued that he is using it to promote his business. The artist wishes to receive compensation should the latter be the case. I don’t think they went about it the right way- you definitely need to send out a cease and desist first. You can’t just throw a bill in someone’s face. However, what is irking me is the belief that because the artist painted it to be enjoyed by the city, they deserve no compensation should it be used for promotional purposes. I don’t think that the businessman had any ill intent in his use of photography of the mural, but if he was using it to sell anything or promote his business, he means to pay the artist. What really makes me angry is the faction of people on the internet who think that it should just be painted over out of spite. As if art is created without time, effort, or money. It was at this point that I closed out the comment section and took to writing this blog.

First of all, copyright infringement is a problem- and the only thing you can’t copyright is an idea. If nobody ever told you that, I am telling you now. For instance, every word you are reading has been copyrighted. There’s a little disclaimer I put on the bottom right hand corner of the web browser version of my blog, and it states as such- I have literally put it there for the people who do not know that everything you publish in a blog is copyrighted. And yes, when it comes to the Fine Arts, the mural an artist paints on a wall is copyrighted by the artist. That is their intellectual property.

Secondly, regarding the fact that you cannot copyright an idea, to earn a copyright you must complete a project. Ergo, you must put forth the time and effort needed for that project. When you think of the steps that it takes from inception of a story idea to basic outline to rough first draft to final edit to finished book, you see why an idea cannot be copyrighted. We all have ideas, but it is only those who make the necessary efforts that get to put their name on the idea. A lot of people who do not work in the Arts think that art comes easily or naturally, and sometimes it does. But mostly it takes effort and time, and often money. That artist probably started out with a pencil drawing and a blank wall. When I think of everything they put into it from buying the paint and brushes to measuring and outlining to actually doing the damn thing- that’s a lot of time. That’s a lot of effort. It was probably a lot of money, too. So of course, if someone were to use that mural to promote or sell something, the artist should be compensated.

And finally, how dare these folks say they should just paint over it? You would destroy someone’s work, simply because you don’t feel they should be rewarded for it? Who, exactly, are you? I’d like to see you try and create something half as worthy of presentation. Gtfo.

Admittedly, I do not know who is right and who is wrong here. I agree with the businessman, in that he should have received a cease and desist letter instead of a bill, and I think that the water surrounding whether or not he has a right to use photos of the mural is still quite murky. And I agree with the artist that they should be compensated for their work should someone else be using it for monetary gain. It’s not like they’re saying tourists can’t take a photo in front of the mural and post it on their Facebook- yes, the artist created it for the public in that perspective. But if someone is trying to make money off of it, any money made should go to the artist. Really, it just seems like a big ol’ mess. And now it is 5:00 a.m., and I have been going on about this for far too long.

See, it just really bothers me, because a long time ago I had a blog where I published some of my poetry. Someone stole that poetry from me and published it under their own name- and that wasn’t even the first time I was plagiarized! It has happened three times to my knowledge, once from a personal acquaintance and twice via blog. Anyway, that is when I started paying attention to copyright law. That is why I put the little disclaimer at the bottom of the page. Because people just don’t know – every word I write is copyrighted. Anything I have had published on the internet is copyrighted. As it should be! I put plenty of time and effort into my ideas, and I do not get paid for it. If nothing else, I deserve the respect of not being infringed upon. Art is not made in a moment, that is only the idea of art. Art is made through effort, and effort deserves recognition.


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