Eva Subotnik on the Collage and Copyright

Every parent with a child in elementary school has, at one time or another, overseen a collage project.  As the child happily cuts photos from a magazine or copies images from the web, it is almost certain that no one is giving a thought to infringing upon someone else’s intellectual property rights.  Adult artists, however, may not feel so secure. 

This past week, Assistant Professor Eva E. Subotnik spoke, as part of Columbia Law School’s Spring IP Speaker Series, about Cariou v. Prince, a high-profile copyright case pending in the Second Circuit that has received substantial coverage in the media.  The case involves a dispute that arose after a highly successful “appropriation artist” incorporated into his large-scale collages many photographs taken by an accomplished photographer. 

Before a full house at Columbia, Prof. Subotnik examined the district court’s analysis in the case (which favored the photographer) and the parties’ arguments on appeal.  She discussed and raised questions about the application of fair use principles to artists who work in the “appropriation art” tradition.  Her primary concern was the impact that a ruling in the case could have on existing doctrines of fair use and whether too broad a decision from the court might unnecessarily impinge on artistic expression.

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