Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Ownership… again

I just ran across this article, originally posted by Willamette Week

If you find who owns a nonprofit tough to wrap your head around, here’s one that’ll really give you fits: Who owns a photo of a piece of art? The answer: it depends. I hope we’ll talk about copyright in this class, because it’s complex, and an issue that arts managers need to understand thoroughly. But, in general, an artist owns the copyright (and therefore rights to reproduce in any format, including photography) to a piece of art they produce. 

There are tons of exceptions, though. In this case, everything is negotiable. When the city (or whomever) commissioned the piece, the contract should have clearly stated that the city owns the copyright. Copyright is transferrable. That would have prevented this problem.

However, as devil’s advocate, why shouldn’t the artist have the right to control the image of this work, as (almost) every other artist has with (almost) every other piece of art?

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2 comments on “Ownership… again

  1. shrulala
    September 12, 2014

    Well if the artist donated it to the nonprofit the organization gets to choose what they do with it. The artist has given up his rights! Don’t you think?

  2. benjamendouglas
    September 15, 2014

    Nope. Not really. I mean yes. But. No.

    Basically, I think that “donating a piece of art” should ideally have the same implications, regardless of the discipline/type of art. So, if a dancer choreographs a piece for an organization, they should be able to control use of that piece later; if a composer writes a piece for an organization, they should still maintain copyright; if an author writes a piece for an organization…well, you get the picture.

    I think it’s complicated. And I think this guy’s being an asshat. And, most importantly, I think the city should’ve negotiated ownership of copyright in advance.

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