The British Intellectual Property Office has introduced a new law intended to address copyright issues, and it has the art world up in arms. The law will put museums, designers, artists and publishers at the risk of significantly increased financial strain and potentially prison. Set to take effect in 2020, the “Transitioning provisions for the repeal of Section 52 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988” is part of a movement that is sweeping across Europe and is predicted to migrate overseas. The law’s concept originates in the repeal of Britain’s Section 52, which restricts design rights on mass-produced items.
There are aspects of the law that are created with the best of intentions, but the actions against artists and arts organizations are far too severe. One of the reasons the law offends so many is because it criminalizes violations of the copyright law, meaning that artists could be accused of plagiarism and thrown in jail. It targets artists like Jeff Koons, who has battled lawsuits for years over the originality of his work. I am not a fan of Koons, and I firmly believe at least some of his work is plagiarized, but would I want to see him imprisoned? No. Even an artist who is guilty of crossing the line of plagiarism, a man who has sacrificed the integrity of original thought in his work, does not deserve to rot in jail. Should there be penalties? Of course, but these should be in the way of fines or expulsion from museums and galleries. Putting people like Koons in prison only leads to an overflow of prisoners and more paperwork getting lost in the British judicial system.
The creation of art is founded in the creative exchange of ideas. There is no way for artists to avoid being influenced by one another, nor should there be. Imagine if artists hadn’t seen or experienced the works of others; the history of art would not exist as we know it today. Artistic movements would have stopped in their tracks, and every artistic innovation to date would be in danger of disappearing.
This law will also significantly alter the fates of museums all over Britain. Just like other businesses that are impacted, museums will face a great deal of financial strain when they struggle to pay for relicensing and face extra fees created by the law. The strain this law creates is unfortunate for all art-related businesses and museums, as institutions dedicated to displaying and creating a love for art. Really, these businesses and museums should not be placed in such a difficult position. If the museums start to die out, public exposure to and appreciation of art will as well. The harm starts to outweigh any potential benefits of increased restrictions on design reproduction or artist plagiarism.
While I respect the intentions of the law — to enhance the working relationships between art institutions, artists and art-related businesses and maintain the originality of artwork — it is being approached with too heavy a hand. I agree with the rest of the art world when I say that this has simply gone too far. The law ought to be revised and made less extreme. There is a place for it within the business side of the art industry. It cannot, however, impede on the positive relationships among artists and all institutions and corporations dedicated to art around the world.