Posted by marc February 24, 2016
Art copyrights

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not a lawyer and I have nothing against Koya Abe, even after the following events. I do have a problem with douchebags and overzealous lawyers, though. Read on for the drama.

You may have noticed that was taken down a few times this week. This was not our doing, nor was it a technical issue. A lawyer representing artist Koya Abe requested that we remove our post featuring the work of Nicolas Amiard (link here, and a link to our source here in case our post is removed). She claimed that Amiard’s paintings are “derivative works that infringe upon Mr. Abe’s copyrights” and that our publishing of those images also infringes on Abe’s rights. At first I was taken aback that Amiard would so brazenly claim someone else’s art as his own. But upon researching the matter (using links to Abe’s work provided by the lawyer), it became very clear that Amiard had not stolen a damn thing from Abe.

Both Abe’s work and Amiard’s take classic Renaissance paintings and composite tattoos on top of the human subjects within those paintings. However, Amiard clearly did not copy Abe’s tattoo designs; each artist created his own additions to the original paintings. The irony borders on comedy. The lawyer claims that Amiard stole from Abe, yet the truth is they both arguably stole from the artists who produced the original paintings and their current copyright holders. And that’s not to even mention how obvious the idea of drawing on top of an existing graphic is in the first place. Most people do it in their elementary school textbooks at the age of 6. Sorry, but you can’t copyright something that nebulous.

After comparing the two artists’ work, I noticed that they had both used two of the same Renaissance paintings as a basis for their modifications (though, again, the tattoos were distinct in each). In response to the lawyer, I offered to not only remove those two images to help her feel like she got something for her effort, but also to post about Abe’s artwork. Nope! She firmly responded that the entire post featuring Amiard’s work should be redacted and that she would not put me in touch with Abe at this time.

We at Clutter Magazine decided that we would not willingly remove the post. As a result, the lawyer took legal action and had our website taken down. We received the following notice regarding our servers:

“We are sorry to report that we have received several reports of copyright infringement… To prevent this traffic, we have disabled the networking interface on the server or servers involved...Once you have taken steps to remove the infringing content and prevent future abuse, please reach out to us with details and we can enable networking again...Please understand that this is a very serious issue as it negatively impacts our platform and your server.”

Luckily, we were able to explain the situation to our technology providers, who agreed that we had done nothing wrong and resurrected the site.

Crisis averted, but let’s boil this down. Artist A draws tattoos on top of Artist X’s and Y’s paintings. Artist B draws different tattoos on top of Artist Y’s and Z’s paintings. Artist A’s lawyer says that Artist B is stealing, but that Artist A is not. Talk about artistic liberty.

Drawing on top of existing work is nothing new and is not something that can be copyrighted. Shit, I still scribble beards, third eyes, and tattoos on top of magazine photos when I’m bored. Is this lawyer going to have a SWAT team come crashing through my windows to protect Abe’s supposed rights? Is she going to time travel back to the 1960s and call out Guy Debord and his Situationalist International friends for subverting printed advertisements on behalf of KAWS? How can you accuse someone of borrowing too liberally when you yourself have borrowed just as liberally? What makes you think you can not only interfere with our business but also infringe on our right to talk about any art we like as members of the press and an established publication with over ten years of history?

In fact, looking at Abe’s entire body of work, very little of it falls under what would qualify as “original”. The Renaissance-era paintings that are at the center of this issue are just the tip of the simulacrum iceberg. Paintings and prints by Roy Lichtenstein, van Gogh, Hokusai, and plenty of other artists have been commandeered. In contrast, Amiard’s portfolio includes a multitude of original illustrations and graphic design projects, both as personal work and corporate campaigns.

Subversion of existing work, homage, nostalgia, and juxtaposition are major tenets of the pop surrealism or “low-brow” movement. This should be understood by everyone participating in the scene. Don’t jump in the pool if you don’t want to get wet. The actions of Abe’s lawyer make it sound like Abe’s mentality is that he and he alone may borrow from the endless supply of existing work just waiting to be modified to make one artistic statement or another. If you’re an artist, full-time or otherwise, you’re probably struggling financially. Don’t you think you should take it easy and not lash out at your colleagues? Do you really want to bite the hands that feed? Why can’t we be friends? Don’t get me wrong; if one artist does actually steal from another without a sense of irony, parody, or some otherwise considerabile modification to the work, that’s an issue. But that certainly isn’t the case here.

So again, I have nothing against Abe or his work. What I have a problem with is the concept that it’s fine for one artist to do something arguably unoriginal but it’s considered infringement if another artist does something similar. I have a problem with lawyers who try to remove our thoughts from the Internet before coming to a resolution between the two feuding artists. I have a problem with douchebags that try to dictate what our readers can and can’t see.


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