Creative license

David Donoghue reports on an interesting copyright issue blowing around Chicago, my home away from home:

The Chicago Tribune‘s Ameet Sachdev reported that an ongoing copyright dispute may be coming to a head at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street in Chicago, click here for the Tribune article. In the 1980s, Israeli artist Yaacov Agam was commissioned to create a sculpture for what would become the Stone Container building at 150 N. Michigan Avenue.* Over time, Chicago weather faded the work and the current owner hired an expert to restore the multi-hued work to its original look. Agam is unhappy with the restoration because he believes the colors were not restored to the exact shades he originally used. . . .

But Agam claimed to hold the copyright in the work and argued that the copyright allowed him to prevent the current owner from creating a derivative work, which Agam believed the restored or reconstructed work to be because of the changed colors.

Here’s another story on the controversy, from my old pal the Chicago Reader. This one jumped out at me, not only because of the Yaacov Agam part — whose much-better preserved work I walk past in New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal frequently — and the Chicago part (I went to law school there) and, naturally, David’s incisive coverage, but also, naturally, the issue at stake.

I had never thought of a restoration of an original work as a derivative work as such, though there is a specific statutory provision dealing with restored works. It doesn’t come that often, though — most works don’t get restored, and anyway copyrights in the U.S. used to expire way before those works that mattered enough to merit it needed to be restored. Not any more!

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Author:Ron Coleman

I write this blog.

3 Responses to “Creative license”

  1. May 12, 2008 at 8:18 am #

    Thanks for the mention Ron & the focus on Chicago. I had never thought of a restoration as a derivative work either, and my untrained eye does not see much difference between the original and the restored work. But Agam sees a clear difference, and his eye has to be better than mine. I suspect that artists will begin to add restoration clauses to their works in the near future.

    Dave

  2. Bob Burch
    May 13, 2008 at 9:59 am #

    It’s a good thing that Michelangelo isn’t around to sue those guys who restored the Sistine Chapel. (or was that a “work for hire”?)

  3. Randy Holbrook
    May 14, 2008 at 2:12 pm #

    If the colors are changed, is it truly a restoration? It strikes me that a new work is being created on the physical form of the old one, and that it is supposed to evoke the old work.

    Is the deterioration of work over time by natural forces part of the original work?