Today of all days (May 6), the day of the ruling for damages in the Cariou v Prince copyright case, NEWSgrist received the following email from a legal assistant at a firm in Oakland California called Bay Oak Law. It lacked a salutation, and so I assume that the same message was pasted and sent to any number of blogs in order to spread the word and drum up support or 'buzz' in the court of art world public opinion:
On Fri, May 6, 2011 at 1:18 PM, Kim Kennedy <xxxxxx@xxxxxx> wrote:
This case might be of interest to you and a possible story for your blog. It is very similar to the recent Cariou v. Prince case. The complaint really speaks for itself, and is linked to below. It can also be found via PACER as Northern District of California Federal Case No. C11-01366-EMC. Read about it at http://www.langorigami.com/info/sarah_morris_copyright_infringement.php4, the website of Plaintiff Robert Lang. Robert is arguably the most famous origami artist in the world right now, and has sued Sarah Morris for copyright infringement. Let me know if you have any questions.
Legal Assistant for Andrew K. Jacobson
Bay Oak Law
180 Grand Ave Ste 700
Oakland CA 94612
Hmm. "It is very similar to the recent Cariou v. Prince case. The complaint really speaks for itself..."
Really. Well let's hope that Bay Oak Law are as careless with their proceedings against Morris as with their due diligence re: NEWSgrist's record on Cariou v Prince (and copyright issues in general).
After recovering from my brief moment of silent snark laughter, the gravity of the situation set in. We really have become a deeply ignorant, litigious and reactionary culture. While the litigious environment is punctuated sporadically by sensible decisions, we tend to nurture - nay, encourage in every way - vexatious litigation and frivolous lawsuits. And then there's just plain bone-headedness, as with this case.
I responded tartly:
Thank you so much for the heads-up. I guess all I can say is that I trust (or hope) the origami artists do not prevail :-/ Also that it would be amusing in a Kafka-esque sort of way to see someone try to argue that Sarah Morris' works somehow impede or supercede the market for origami.
The alleged infringement is described on the origami artist Robert Lang's site - who qualifies as old-school copyright maximalist with little or no understanding of copyright's limitations - as follows:
For several years, American artist Sarah Morris created a series of paintings on the theme of origami in which she took origami crease patterns by several international origami artists, changed the color scheme, made up her own names for them, and then sold and exhibited them internationally without obtaining permission or giving credit. Six of the origami artists whose work was so used have filed suit for copyright infringement against Ms. Morris in Federal Court in Oakland, California.
For example, here are two side-by-side comparisons between the original origami artwork (on the left) and Ms. Morris's painting (on the right).
Why did we take this step, you might ask? Among other reasons, under American copyright law, the original artist has the right to control derivative works of our original works. ("Derivative works" are those works that are based upon our original works, but do other things to them—such as colorizing them, in this case.) As the original artists, we recognize that copyright law gives artists substantial rights regarding use of their artwork. Although we published our crease patterns, that does not mean we gave up our ownership rights to the original art works we created.
As of May 4th, 2011, Ms. Morris has not answered the complaint. We have identified 24 of her works (listed in the complaint) that are unauthorized copies of origami crease patterns by modern origami artists. If you know of any origami-based paintings created by Ms. Morris that are not listed in the complaint above, we would be happy to learn of them. If you have any further questions about this, please contact our attorneys , Caroline Valentino of Haims Valentino, LLP and Andrew Jacobson of Bay Oak Law via email.
For further information, please see the Bay Oak Law blog entry on this case.
"Derivative works" are those works that are based upon our original works, but do other things to them—such as colorizing them, in this case.
Colorizing? For one thing, the origami artists seem to be confused as to the definition of derivative works as opposed to, say, transformative ones. Alas, they are not alone in their confusion. Happily, a friend of mine wrote-in with another friend's lucid response, which I paraphrase here:
The origami patterns are functional diagrams made for the purpose of making 3D objects. Sarah Morris, a well-established painter, used them comically as compositional devices for flat paintings, the purpose of which is to comment ironically on the nature of flatness in painting. Morris's use of color schemes also nods (or genuflects deeply) to the paintings of Frank Stella; hence they function as both painting and jocular conceptual collage.
Quoting my friend's friend:
"It is interesting that the infringement claim reduces the diagrams to artistic patterns as if this is where their value really lies. They might look nice but this isn't their original purpose. To pretend now that it was their purpose is a bit naughty. Surely their value lies in the fact that they can be used to make specific objects and this value lies unexploited or copied by Sarah Morris..."