Where’s The Justice!

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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There has been a lot of consternation over “sampling” (or shall we say stealing) artists’ work. Some argue that art is the raw material of more art. Others say all art belongs to the creator. The copyright laws favor the latter. But there are those who, for whatever reasons, feel pilfering is proper.

I’m not talking about the light-gray area of manipulating (and transforming) one piece into another. I’m talking about direct pirating. This is what happened with the image (above) designed by Mirko Ilic, illustrator, designer, and contributor to this blog. Originally done in 1985 for an article on the Mafia for the Italian magazine Panorama, it was cited in Graphis (1987) and other showcase magazines. There is no doubt this was an original work produced by a named (not anonymous) artist. And yet recently it was used as the album cover for the German DJ Dompteur Mooner (below)–without permission!

But what is an artist to do? If he has the money, he can hire a lawyer to get a cease-and-desist injunction against the offending party, which would curtail the sales of the album in the U.S. Yet getting the German DJ and record company into a U.S. court would be difficult to impossible, forcing the artist to hire a German lawyer at considerable cost. Even then, the process could be stymied. In other words, for any remedy to occur, the artist would have to fork over around $4,000 just to trigger the process. In the end, however, those fees might never be recovered, even with a positive ruling.

Had the DJ contacted Ilic for permission, a fair arrangement would likely have been possible. That he chose instead to use the work as though it were in the public domain (which it is not) reveals the inequities that still plague the copyright system. But more important, it shows that unscrupulous businesspeople and so-called artists still roam the earth.

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →