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Copyrighting public space
February 12, 2005 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Chicago's current archetectual and artistic showcase, Millenium Park seems to be causing some problems. The pedestrian bridge was closed because the hardwood used to build it can not take the salt used to remove ice from pedestrian walkways. But it also seems that the massive sculpture Cloud Gate aka "The Bean" is a copyright elephant in public space. Park security are shaking down photographers for permits. As is typical, the copyright shakedown appears to be less about protecting the rights of the original artists, and more about the rights of the distributor (in this case, the city's desired monopoly on postcards and prints). See boing boing for editorializing and Slashdot for the typical herd reaction.
posted by KirkJobSluder (22 comments total)

 
Those park security guys are pretty easy to bribe.
But I'd love to see a case go to court - prosecute some guy for taking a picture of the Bean.
I'd also love to see Da Mare's reaction:
"It's y'know, the city, we" (hunches shoulders) "If you take a picture to sell, that, y'know"(hunches shoulders) "You can take a picture," (hunch) "No one's sayin' " (hunch) "Look, just get a permit, that's all we're sayin" (points to next journalist).

I tried to go to Millenium Park, but it was all MOBBED up.

heh heh.
I love it here. The corruption is thrilling (to quote Lenny Bruce)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:47 PM on February 12, 2005


according to christine vachon's production diaries for velvet goldmine there's a storefront in london that the owners had copyrighted. apparently the store had a very cozy and endearing old-world feel and it kept showing up in films and photographs, and the owners wanted a slice of the profit pie.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:55 PM on February 12, 2005


So does this now mean that my visage is the copyrighted property of my parents, and anyone taking my picture in a public space must now pay a license?

ok only slightly less non-serious, you are going to put your property in a public place you dont get to decide who take photos of it, you want to put it in a private place, you get to control it.

A court is going to have to decide this. You shouldn't be needing a license to photo and print those photos of a public space. If you decide to put a piece of art you own in a public space and expect it not to be photoed? you are an idiot. And besides jackass, the point as an *artist* is to be commissioned to do more art. But please feel free to have people remember your name and get pissed off at you.
posted by MrLint at 4:58 PM on February 12, 2005


Yeah. MrLint captured my feelings on this. What good is public art when it simply becomes "art that is free of charge."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:12 PM on February 12, 2005


The same kind of thing is happening in the UK too. Hackney Council in London has done something similar with the Town Hall Square and surrounding area as part of its redevelopment scheme. A good article about the privatisation of public space.
posted by tapeguy at 5:14 PM on February 12, 2005


Likewise, the Eiffel Tower at night is "copyrighted."
posted by SPrintF at 5:58 PM on February 12, 2005


The idea of any government - local, state or otherwise, trying to invoke copyright on public art is asinine. Governments exist to serve the people. Chicagoans forked over tax money to pay for the bean. It's theirs and the people should be able to photograph it. So should professionals.
posted by nyterrant at 6:13 PM on February 12, 2005


The artist wants the benefit of having their art displayed in an extremely high profile public space and then extract a fee when members of said public wish to photograph 'their' public space?

Suggestion: the artist pays a fee to the public for use of this very valuable storage and advertising space. Hmmm, I wonder what the market price of the land or even value of a billboard might be in that particular place?

Or maybe I'm confused about how things work in Chicago. The city does not equal the public?

Who's sure this is art btw. It's basically a funhouse mirror no? Hey wait a second, shouldn't the artist also be paying a fee to all the architects who designed the buildings around it? When we're looking at The Bean, aren't we really looking at the buildings?
posted by scheptech at 6:18 PM on February 12, 2005


Schepthech, I don't think it's the artist who is crying copyright, but the city.
posted by mawlymawnster at 6:48 PM on February 12, 2005


Well done, KirkJobSluder
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:02 PM on February 12, 2005


thanks mawlymawnster

As an amature photographer I get a little exercised about this issue. Used to be anything you could see in a public place including people was considered well, public. Which was a nice clean simple, fair approach. Now we have various folks attempting to create privacy zones within public spaces while at the same time taking benefit of the fact they're in public spaces. And the reason this seems to be happening is legalistic. It's just they can more easily be represented legally than can be 'the public'. So in this case the perpetrator is a level of government that should be representing the public's interest? Wow, even better.
posted by scheptech at 7:26 PM on February 12, 2005


This issue has been blown entirely out of proportion. While I'm no fan of restrictive copyrights, it should be noted that anyone and everyone is welcome to take photographs of anything and everything in Millennium Park. The permits are meant only for photographers who plan to sell their images and wedding parties (who cordon off sections of the park for a short time while they snap a few pictures).

The problem lies with over-zealous guards who didn't understand the poorly communicated policy. As initially reported in a brief article in the Chicago Reader (and commented on further in the current issue), the photographer accosted by guards intended to sell his images on magnets, posters, etc.

So: bring your fancy, digital SLR to the park and snap away. The guards will pester you, but if you claim that you're taking the photos for purely personal reasons, there's nothing they can do. Indeed, the city has communicated that they encourage tourists and visitors to go crazy with their cameras.

What makes the issue complicated is that other Chicago landmarks don't have the same protections from commercial photographers. The Picasso sculpture, for instance, is fair game for anyone to photograph for profit. Indeed, the artist famously gave the thing to the city as a "gift to the people of Chicago". The massive Calder and Miro sculptures are also free for photographing.

That different rules apply to the bean says something about the artist and the current culture of the arts in general. It is NOT an appropriate rallying cry for the copyleft, Creative Commons, and EFF movements (all of which I support). Indeed, the restrictions on bean photography are very similar to those I apply to my own photographs with a CC license.

A note to my fellow Chicagoans: the real story of graft, corruption and the foul stench of City Hall lies in the vending and concession contracts for the place. The Park Grill, for example, is run by the son of a powerful local alderman. Think about that the next time you pay $6 for a hot dog and $10 for a ticket to a supposedly "public" music event.
posted by aladfar at 7:46 PM on February 12, 2005


I don't think it's the artist who is crying copyright, but the city. ... I have met Anish Kapoor, the artist who designed the "bean" . Not for one second do I believe that it is the artist who is driving this copyright issue. I met him at Skowhegan... an artists' retreat/post grad program ... He was the most open and generous teacher that I have ever encountered. He does not deserve this.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:20 PM on February 12, 2005


The city is crying copyright, but they're saying (or so sez that Reader article) that the copyright has been retained by the artist who designed the sculpture. Are they lying, then? Passing the blame on to the artists? (Wouldn't put it past them.)

Since it is a public sculpture, paid for in part by public funds, there should be no restrictions on ANYONE taking pictures of it, whatever they plan on doing with them--even if they're professional photographers who are going to paste them on magnets. I can see charging wedding photogs to close off part of the park, but other than that, no dice.
posted by goatdog at 10:14 PM on February 12, 2005


aladfar, R. M R. Mutt, You are being entirely to reasonable! In order to effect change you must stiffen your resolve. In order to be pure, you must reject 'the bean'.

The effort is to reclaim public space, not to think reasonably.

yours truly,
Kuatto
posted by kuatto at 10:48 PM on February 12, 2005


Suggestion: the artist pays a fee to the public for use of this very valuable storage and advertising space. Hmmm, I wonder what the market price of the land or even value of a billboard might be in that particular place?

Actually, a better way to work it is how they do it in Europe, and pay the artist a yearly ammount for as long as the sculpture is standing. The art belongs to the public and is fair game, but it also continues to be consumed and continues to provide value to the space. The artist is entitled to a portion of that value.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 1:31 AM on February 13, 2005


I always assumed that the cost of a commission would include the rights to photograph. And seeing that this is a public project...

I saw M.P. a few months ago and was impressed at the huge expenditure of public funds in this greedy age of ours. I guess this is the rub, a real WTF moment. Wouldn't they want people to know about this park? Don't photographs promote the city?

Personally I view these restrictions as a challenge. I wish I was more of a photographer.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:39 AM on February 13, 2005


The Photographers Right [Cruising del.icio.us]
posted by jaronson at 8:13 AM on February 13, 2005


To briefly circle back to Mr. Lint's sarcastic suggestion, it may in fact be that your visage is your property. There's an emerging "right to publicity" in IP law. Hence, Vanna White successfully sued Samsung (I think) for using a robot that reminded people of her in an advertisement. Unless you're famous though, you may have trouble proving that you've been injured by someone using your picture commercially.

I like Pink Fuzzy Bunny's/Europe's plan but, interestingly, the same logic can be used to reach the conclusion that we should eliminate copyright entirely and replace it with something like a government sponsored artist's stipend.
posted by leecifer at 9:23 AM on February 13, 2005


aladfar: The permits are meant only for photographers who plan to sell their images and wedding parties (who cordon off sections of the park for a short time while they snap a few pictures).

This also bugs me. Part of the concept of a "commons" is that they are open to commercial use as well as personal non-profit use, with only the barest form of regulation to ensure that the commons are not harmed.

That different rules apply to the bean says something about the artist and the current culture of the arts in general. It is NOT an appropriate rallying cry for the copyleft, Creative Commons, and EFF movements (all of which I support). Indeed, the restrictions on bean photography are very similar to those I apply to my own photographs with a CC license.

Actually, it is. It is a classic example of the kinds of privatization that led to the creation of Creative Commons. The fact that we've gone from a situation where permission can be assumed unless explicitly stated, to a situation where prohibition is assumed unless explicitly stated is the driving rationale behind Creative Commons.

In addition. I think there are serious issues of democracy involved when governments become publishers without releasing into the public domain. For example, I consider that the copyright prohibitions that put works by the U.S. Government into the public domain should be expanded to apply to state and local governments as well.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:33 AM on February 13, 2005


Wait - KirkJobSluder, I don't get it. Aren't the CC and GPL movements just more privatization? In fact, they're much more restrictive than Copyright or the public domain b/c you can use them to contract out of the fair use exceptions.

This situation is different from the average copyright issue for the reason you acknowledge: that it's government procurement. If you want to analogize to EFF etc., this is more like the free software people's push to get the government to only use open-source software.
posted by leecifer at 10:43 AM on February 13, 2005


leecifer: Wait - KirkJobSluder, I don't get it. Aren't the CC and GPL movements just more privatization? In fact, they're much more restrictive than Copyright or the public domain b/c you can use them to contract out of the fair use exceptions.

Not really. Creative works default to "all rights reserved" as soon as they are fixed to any medium. (In the case of the previous sentence, when I hit Ctrl-s in a text editor.) The problem that CC is attempting to fix is that formerly, you could assume permission in the absence of a copyright notice. Now, you must assume that the use of a work could lead to punative legal action.

CC attempts to remedy this by creating a commons of "some rights reserved" works. The rights reserved by CC licenses are much less expansive than the rights I get automatically by pressing Ctrl-s.

Also, you can't to my knowledge contract out of fair use exceptions, since these are defined as limits on copyright by Federal Law.

This situation is different from the average copyright issue for the reason you acknowledge: that it's government procurement. If you want to analogize to EFF etc., this is more like the free software people's push to get the government to only use open-source software.

I see three issues here. First of all, I think that government owned creative works should be in the public domain. For the government to claim a publication monopoly on a public artwork is incompatible with the mission of the goverment as a shared enterprise of the people. Secondly, I suspect that government ownership of IP also runs into First Amendment issues in that the City of Chicago is intending to impose prior restraint on images of a public space. Third, I see this as an example of the kinds of a creeping expansiveness of copyright law beyond what it was intended to cover.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:30 AM on February 13, 2005


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