Monday, January 31, 2011


Here's the latest bit from the "Design Methods" chapter of Alice Through the Proscenium (currently being re-re-formatted aargh! for its e Publishing launch):

Go-Bys –  Not quite inspiration and not really guides are those pictures of someone else’s work used as a model for your own project.  Don’t use a go-by for the whole design.  (Plagiarism is mortal sin, but, sshhhh, shop-lifting a few little bitty clues is only a venial one).  A go-by can kick-start your brain.  You don’t need to feel guilty either, because you will modify it all completely by the end.

Which brings up intellectual property rights.  The principal is simple: stealing is wrong.  Permission and compensation are fair.  You know when you’re cheating.

It’s after the lawyers trample in it all that it gets muddy.  I mean, the Chrysler building is trademarked? 4.10  Use that shape in a set and legally you ought rent it from someone.  Really.  And collages using images you didn’t create yourself require permission from the copyright holder of each scrap. Yes, that ladies’ underwear ad.  You can legally line the bird cage with overlapping funny pages, but frame it and becomes Art and apparently illegal.  Freedom of speech?  The law tells collage artists to shut up. 4.11     

4.10   Yes, trademarked by the building owners. Yet an architect cannot copyright a building’s design, only the construction drawings.  Go figure.
4.11  But, thanks to the brave Barbie artist who beat Matel’s lawyers, you can now legally dress your dolly in tortillas and bake her as an enchilada.  Just don’t dress her photo, unless you took it yourself, or, arguably in Britain, if it’s a museum photo and a documentary sort of photo rather than an artistic photo…  Yeesh.

As a footnote to that footnote...  One of my shows may have been plagiarized - it's hard to tell.  Designers often come up with similar solutions as they solve similar problems, but in this case there were so many similarities, shapes, materials, plan all seemed too similar.  At the time I was 95% convinced it was borrowed - but over time that conviction has dwindled to 75%.  On the other hand, one architectural plan really was blatently stolen!  The thief admitted it cheerfully - couldn't understand my upset - but did, in the end, pay a token design fee,

ADDENDUM:  Copyright law keeps evolving.  As of 2013, it may be okay to use that ladies' underwear ad... if your use is "transformative."

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