Friday, April 13, 2007

Ripping Off Artists: The Shepards v. Rosie O'Donnell

What with the Todd Goldman stealing from cartoonists story, I was reminded of the Rosie O'Donnell/Shepards case ....

Nice to see that everyone agrees how wrong Goldman is. I agree. But there are precedents for a "reimaginer" like Goldman. If the original creator(s) of these images sue Goldman, they may not win a lawsuit.

Case in point: Rosie O'Donnell and the mother and daughter team of courtroom artists, Shirley and Andrea Shepard. Some of you will recall that the Shepards sued O'Donnell when she (Rosie) used their art work in collages. Rosie's "art" was part of a Rosie art show at a Manhattan gallery. (Yeah, in between her magazine failing and her Broadway show tanking, Rosie was an artist for a time.)

The Shepards sued and lost. Rosie, who had torn up hi res images of their drawings to make her collage, had created what the court called a "new work." It was not plagiarism.

And, to quote Montgomery Scott, if my grandmother had wheels, she's be a wagon.

1 comment:

Brian Fies said...

Well, ol' buddy, without being familiar with the Shepard's or Rosie's work, I think I disagree with you on general principle.

In the Goldman case, our villain started with someone else's cartoon and "created"...the exact same cartoon. Rosie started with courtroom sketches created for the purposes of journalism (I guess), manipulated them, and repurposed them for a work of art outside their original realm. If I make a giant collage whose components include pages from a novel, images from a movie, or even cartoons, have I violated their creators' copyrights? Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, was Stan Drake violating someone's copyright when he photocopied published pictures of Manhattan, drew over them with markers, and pasted them into Juliet Jones? As long as the new work is substantially different, the law as I understand it says "no" and I agree with the law.

Which is not to say there's not a fine line/slippery slope. I'm irritated when I hear a snippet of music on the radio and expect to hear a great oldies song, only to get an abomination that stole ("sampled") that snippet for a modern mash-up. I guess it's legal--it must be or they wouldn't do it--but it always makes me think less of the artist. Make up your own riff, don't rip off the Rolling Stones! In that case, I guess it's best left to the market to decide if they (we) want to support such originality. Apparently we do.

At the heart of copyright protection (again, as I understand it) is to protect creators from having to compete with their own work. Rosie wasn't trying to be a courtroom artist and the Shepards, I presume, weren't trying to get their courtroom sketches into galleries. In addition to his primary crime of producing the *exact same cartoon* as Dave Kelly, Goldman starting putting it on t-shirts--something Kelly might've reasonably wanted to do himself. I think there's a difference.

But I might be wrong.