I belong to a couple of different book arts listservs, one on Yahoo and one on Live Journal, and a couple of book arts groups on Flickr. On one of these the other day, a member was displaying the accordion book she'd made with sewn edges, a fabric cover and cleverly done designs. The text in it had been typed in with what looked like Courier, but all in all, it was a cute book. The big problem was that it was the text and illustrations of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, first published by French publishers Gallimard in 1943. The book artist had simply cut out the illustrations from another book and sewn them into her book.
And she was offering it for sale on Etsy. (Update: it's now been taken down or sold. Not sure which.)
When I got done boggling at this, I dropped a note in the comments to the effect that hey, it was a cute book, but I didn't think she could actually sell it since she didn't own the copyright. And I went to bed, shaking my head.
In the morning, there were two replies to my comment in my inbox (though the post itself had been taken down by then), one from a fellow list member and one from the book artist herself. the former said she thought the book had passed into the public domain in Canada, since in Canada copyright lasts 50 years past the publishing date, and seller was Canadian. The second reply, from the book artist herself, had me plainly boggling. It said:
do you really think i can't sell it ?
who cares about the copyright?
you can find anything you want on internet,
it's like collageart
so you're about to say that i can't use images to make collage?
that doesn't make sense.
All I could think was that, plainly, the artist is either very young, ignorant of what copyright means, or very, very stupid. There are really three separate issues here: the facts of copyright, whether it applies to the internet, and what fair use is (as in using images in collage), each of which I want to address. And that emoticon at the end. That doesn't make anything okay.
First, there's a contempt for the idea of copyright—that I share, to a certain extent—among people who came of age in the internet era; my teaching friends see it all the time in their classes (and I probably will too with some of my new students). I blame the pervasive hacker meme "information wants to be free" for that. Information, yes. Works of art, not necessarily.
Although I don't believe a prolonged or indefinite copyright is healthy for art or artists, and I've said so elsewhere, there's not much to be done about it except protest to your representatives about it. To ignore copyright completely, as this book artist has done, is not only dangerous under the current laws, but freaking downright rude. And it behooves people who hold in contempt an artist's right to their own work during their lifetime to remember that this particular sword cuts both ways. Without copyright, anyone can appropriate their work, too, and sell it as their own, as Shakespeare's publishers often did with his poems. And what does the author or designer or artist get then? Nada. No royalties, no nothing. Just a tip of the hat and a warm thanks for being such a cash cow. The whole point of selling your art is to make a living from it. Hard to do when other people appropriate it and sell it out from under you.
As far as finding it on the internet making it free, uh, nice try. Here's the copyright notice from The Little Prince's official site:
Copyright and reproduction rights:
All of this site is covered by French and international copyright and intellectual property law.
All reproduction rights reserved; this also covers icons and photographs.
Total or partial reproduction in any form whatsoever is strictly prohibited unless expressly authorised by us.
Text may be copied to paper format for educational purposes, providing the following conditions are respected:
- distribution is free;
- the reproduced documents respect the integrity of the original (no changes or alterations);
- clear and legible mention of the source presented in the following way:
"Document copied from the Internet site http://www.littleprince.com. Reproduction rights reserved and strictly limited."
For any other use, please consult us.
Intellectual property laws apply to all media now, including the Internet. That's what the recent writer's strike was all about.
This doesn't mean you can't ever use anybody's else's work in your own, for free. There's such a thing as "fair use," which has gotten muddier and muddier recently, but which does allow artists and writers to quote from or use images and words in their own work. Collage often falls under this category, but even then, you've got to be careful. The test seems to be whether the artist is creating a completely original work that incorporates an element of another's work. Digital art does this frequently by morphing or transforming, say, snippets of poetry, or a photograph for use on the Web. Paper or multi-media collage does this too.
But there's a big difference between taking the original text and illustrations of a published work and putting them into a handbound book and creating a collage. In The Little Prince accordion book, the artist has taken all of the text, at least some of the original illustrations (which were also by Saint-Exupéry), and used the same title (which can't be copyrighted) as the original book by Saint-Exupéry. The only change is that she redesigned the package, which is what publishers do all the time in producing a new edition. This book artist has, in effect, republished the book. If it's not legal to photocopy a complete book and then sell the photocopy, why would it be legal to sell any other complete reproduction?
Collage is somewhat different, in that it is not a straight reproduction, but incorporates original elements. Including some but not all of the illustrations and text would come closer to making it fair use, but I wouldn't want to risk it, myself. Fair use is generally measured by the amount of the original work that's used, or what percent of the work it makes up, or how much it is changed from the original. But putting a new cover and new pages on old text and illustrations is not an original work.
Serendipitously as I was writing this, I received a notice for a Center for Book Arts Professional Development Workshop on, among other things, "Legal Issues for Artists: Digital Media and Intellectual Property," which could be subtitled, "Why You Should Give a Shit." Because you should. And you should have at least a vague idea of what texts and old media you can and cannot use, what "fair use" generally entails (it's getting stickier by the moment), and what you can do to protect your own art. (I'm going to go to this, so I'll write a post on it after March 14th, when it's being held.)
This is where the first commenter was mistaken. She assumed the copyright ran only 50 years after the publishing date in Canada (or basically anywhere in the English speaking world, since they have a mutual agreement about it). Not true. Basic copyright is generally 50 years after the death of the author. Here's Canada's take on it, right from the source:
The term for which copyright shall subsist shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act, be the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year.
In the States, thanks to Sonny Bono, it can be up to 70 years past the author's death or 120 years past the work's creation, depending on when it was published and which occurs first. There are conventions covering every kind of work in every country, so it's wise to make sure what the rules are covering the material you're using.
But Antoine de Saint-Exupéry died in 1944, so why isn't his work in the public domain now? Because publishers have the right to renew the term of copyright, which is what Saint-Exupéry's publishers in North America—including Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (HBJ), G.K. Hall of the Gale Group, and Wordsworth Editions—did. And the right to "republish into a book, journal, newsletter," is only available from some of them. For a fee. HBJ does not allow it, but Gale will sell it to you, for an edition of 50, for $203. Try pricing it yourself at Copyright.com.
This is where most publishers make their money: on their backlists. It's how they finance the risks of publishing unknowns, like me. So I have something of a vested interest in preserving that right, though extending it indefinitely makes me itchy. I'd also like my work, should it ever be published, to inspire future generations. That's why I like the Creative Commons copyrights, under which this site falls.
If you're at all interested, like I am, in making artist's books where the text and design complement each other, and if you're using something other than your own texts (again, as I am), you need to be aware of copyright laws, so all your hard work doesn't land you in a lawsuit or become completely unusable in your own lifetime. So where can you find copyright-free words and images for your books, besides your own? More on that in the next part.
[Update: BTW, there's a lively discussion going on at the Live Journal Community Handmade Books. Come on over. And there's a post by Jackie Poutasse over at TJ Bookarts in a similar vein that's well worth reading. And Part III of this series, too.]