Where were the artists?
Brasses and glasses

Graffiti and Copyright

I wanted to add to my previous post on this to let my readers know what the end result was, both short and long term.

The sequence of events, as well as many good comments from supporters, is on my Flickr page.

Many of the affected artists visited the gallery to voice their displeasure. In addition, Simon Cole, of Show and Tell Gallery, went down - he handles the work for a number of the graffiti artists. Simon had to serve the gallery with a "cease and desist" letter on this - basically this is a warning of future legal action if the recipient does not comply. Usually within a very short time frame.

As a result of this:

- The show was taken down by May Karp (Sept 17)
- All the sales have been canceled
- The gallery will be sending written apologies to the artists
- They will also issue a public apology
- May Karp still states she didn't do anything wrong!

The reference for this was Canada's Copyright Act - a link to the on line version is here. (link updated May 11/13)

Sections 6.2, 13, 14.1, 28.1, and 34 were all relevant to the letter.

I'll summarize each section -

  • 6.2 provides that copyright exists, even if the author is unknown. And up to 50 years from date of first publication. (I would think for graff art done on a wall - that is when it is "published")  
  • 13 specifies that the author of the work is the first owner of the copyright,
  • 14.1 provides that the author of a work has the moral right to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous,
  • 28.1 discusses infringements on moral rights,
  • 29 discusses fair dealing, and
  • 34 describes the remedies (damages, etc)that someone whose copyright was infringed is then entitled to.

In addition, the act describes artistic work as "includes paintings, drawings, maps, charts, plans, photographs, engravings, sculptures, works of artistic craftsmanship, architectural works, and compilations of artistic works". In addition, it specifies that copyright exists in "every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work".

Nothing about whether the work was done with permission or not, nothing about if in the public space. Those may well be issues for local authorities, but don't affect the copyright.  

Ms Karp had assured my sister and I (at the show's opening) that her lawyer had advised her that there was not a problem with copyright. I would hope that she is following up with her lawyer now.

In addition, she cited her photographs of buildings as not needing copyright checks, using this as support for her argument that the photographs of graffiti art did not involve copyright. In fact, the same lawyer should have pointed out that Section 2.2 of the Copyright Act excludes photographs of architectural works specifically. So, not a relevant point.  


So - short term the show was taken down. The gallery learned something, and the artists banded together.

Long term? Graffiti artists tend to be an independent group. This has brought a lot of them together in Toronto to establish their rights, to think of protecting those rights, and to consider how to better market themselves. Consider this NY Times story about Tats Cru in New York. They forced a publisher to pull a book of illegal photos of their work, and they get requests for permission now from film studios wanting to use their work as a backdrop for a shoot. I'd like to see more shows in TO of the work of these artists, as well as photos (with permission) of their work. I've heard rumours the gallery might re-do the show - the right way.

Maybe this will also get more of the artists organized to lobby for arts funding - research the issues, go to the all candidates meetings, present their case, debunk the candidate's standard arguements. For starters, here's an interesting article in the Globe and Mail that discusses the Conservative's claim that they have increased funding, the study concludes that there has actually been an erosion in funding.


Note - there will be a one night fundraiser at Charlie's Gallery (112 Harbord St.) to help recoup some of the legal fees associated with this fiasco. It will be happening on Thursday September 25th between 6 and 11pm. There will be an auction for original artwork and they will be selling prints as well.





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