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Artist at Center of Oscar-Nominated Documentary Loses Copyright Case

More copyright outrage, from The Hollywood Reporter:

The Oscar-nominated documentary Exit from the Gift Shop detailed the incredible rise of Thierry Guetta from an amateur documentarian to an art world sensation known as “Mr. Brainwash.” But now Guetta, whose work has set off a number of debates about the nature of originality in art, is in serious legal jeopardy thanks to a California federal judge who has determined that Guetta’s work on one of his showcase pieces — a manipulated image of the iconic rap group, Run DMC — was outside the bounds of copyright law.

Last year, Friedman sued Guetta for using his Run DMC photograph — which has been called the most famous photo of Run DMC that exists — without permission.

Guetta argued that the Run DMC photograph wasn’t original enough to deserve copyright protection. Although it’s widely hailed by photography buffs as being influential, Guetta’s lawyers argued that Run-DMC’s pose in the picture — the “B-Boy Stance” — was already in the public domain. Additionally, Guetta argued there were many photographs of Run-DMC from the 1980’s that were similar, including the style of clothing, pose, demeanor and background.

But California federal judge Dean Pregerson doesn’t buy that argument, saying that Friedman’s decisions about light and shadow, image clarity, depth of field, spatial relationships and graininess were “artistic decisions cummutatively” resulting in a photograph with copyright protectable elements. Further, the judge finds enough substantial similarity between Friedman’s photograph and Guetta’s art for a copyright infringement claim.

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As the article concludes, “One has to wonder whether Andy Warhol would have survived litigation and whether documentary and music “re-mixers” have any safe ground from liability today.”

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.