Artist Copyright and the Challenges of Infringement and Plagiarism in the 21st Century

In the modern context of artistic practice and the works that result from this practice, protecting Intellectual Property (IP) of the Modern Artist needs some attention and potential reevaluation.

One might ask the question, “What is Modern Art?”, and further inquiring, “In what way can it be described to include the various new materials, tools, methodologies, and their artistic manifestations and outcomes in the 21st century?”

The basic tenets of artistic copyrights are simple in that the artist’s rights of ownership are established at the moment of first creation of the artistic work by the artist.

These rights are internationally recognized. An Artist’s works are protected by world copyright and plagiarism protection laws that a majority of counties have adopted, and are in place.

In recent times, the descriptions of what constitutes an artistic work, by necessity, have been an increasing concern with new and expanded definitions now in place and others being considered.

Historically, artists have been some of the first adopters of new materials, breakthroughs in technology,  in scientific discovery, and invention. Artists have contributed greatly to the cultural and philosophical understanding of these achievements and their corresponding advancements. 

The contributions of artists have led to many new applications in numerous fields including, but not limited to, industrial design, architecture, and forms of digital technology, and scientifically based design applications.

In our time, digital technologies and material science have become one of the biggest contributors to  the creation of artistic works from the 1980’s to the present day in the 2020’s. The digital world literally defines and continues to redefine what an artist is, what they do, what they make, and how they make what they make.

With computer aided design (CAD), and the manufacturing opportunities provided by Computer Numerical Control (CNC) the potential creation of artistic works has expanded into larger material opportunities resulting in new and innovative design applications. The scope and range of what an artist can feasibly touch with their art by utilizing these new tools, in both new and old materials, is now greatly enhanced and continues to grow.

The scale and scope of what an artist can do is now not limited to just the art gallery installation or the public art realm. The artist is now capable of reaching far into the world of industrial design, architecture, automotive, aerospace, fashion, to mention just a few ways and places an artist can have an impact. This is all possible because of an ever expanding technological and material palette.

These technological opportunities available for artistic creation, and the expanded domains of the artist’s reach, alongside developments in computer-based communication technologies that the modern artist can now implement, are resulting in the creation of new works in areas that previously were not the artist's area of influence. This has some implicit and important dangers and drawbacks. 

The ubiquity of information and access to information through the Internet and social media is a double-edged sword for the artist. It has given the artist a widely accessible venue to showcase their work, but unfortunately this also has opened up issues with how artistic intellectual property is sourced and how it can be potentially misused or stolen.

The breadth of the Internet’s ability to provide access to works of artists of all kinds reinforces the tendency of the modern Internet user in many creative industries to perceive the things one finds on the Internet are somehow open to free-use or reuse. This has created an abusive landscape that leaves the artist open to infringement and plagiarism.

This is the key factor in the potential downside and the difficult irony of our computerized and data-based industries, cultures, and societies.

It is therefore necessary to bring these issues to the fore, and forcefully define for the artist their rights, and also to forcefully secure the rights of the artist to the exclusive ownership of their practice and work.

The globally accepted artist copyright laws ensure exclusive ownership by the artist of their work for the lifetime of the artist plus 75 years.  

Artistic works have been created in genetic labs, aerodynamic wind tunnels, urban domains, even in deserts, and in space.

Art is defined by the ideas, actions, and production of the artist. Artistic copyright protection is defined by the same rules.

To this end, it is also necessary to further describe the expanded domains of what the artist has rights to, with respect to the work that they create through the use of the previously outlined advanced technology tool kits that an artist has at their disposal now and going forward. 

In our modern era, an artist's work cannot only be defined or constrained by limited categories of materiality, or the tools, or the methods that the artist uses to make the work. It cannot even be defined by the field of application in which the work resides.

With the modern computer-based expansion of the range of what constitutes the artist’s work and the methods for its creation; the academic, institutional, and industrial definitions of creative works, with respect to Intellectual Property, are slowly following this dramatic change and advancement. Having said this, there is more to be done to hold accountable those who scour the Internet for creative ideas that can be stolen for their own purposes. Their actions must be continually monitored and corrected.

As stated above, the ubiquity of information accessible on the Internet and the tendency of those that copy works digitally displayed by artists, is a large and increasing problem.

To counter this, it falls to the efforts of the artist themselves to challenge their infringers, forgers, and plagiarists personally. There is no international artist copyright police force that works to find and challenge these bold cheaters.

This is an historical struggle. Important advancements in numerous fields of human endeavor have classically come from creatively inspired individuals and small teams motivated to invent and innovate. It is also a classical situation where the innovations created by these individuals are hunted and consumed by bigger, but less creative, entities that have the time and resources to cast wide nets to capture, and eventually control, the works of creative originators.

It is an interesting irony now in our age that, with the very tools that provide the artist with the platform to let the world in on their creative works, the artist can find the infringers and plagiarists that threaten their artist rights, and call them out: using the same tools that they have used to cheat the artist.

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