Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Treasure Trove of Frida Kahlo's Memories

There seems to be a large collection of Frida Kahlo’s possessions that will be soon up for sale, from her letters, jewelry, to sexual sketches she had made in a notebook. However, as the NYTimes reports, there is a big question of authenticity. While the artist’s copyright protected works may be in jeopardy, the bigger issue is fraud.

The New Yorker had an article a few years ago regarding Jefferson bottles of wine, wines that had belonged to Thomas Jefferson yet to be shipped to the US, that had been alleged to be found in a cellar in France. There were allegations that a famed wine collector was making counterfeit wines and bottling them in the original Jefferson bottles, for which people were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for.

While many people may not care that these wealthy art and wine enthusiasts are being scammed, to me it seems more important to point out that not only is fraud occurring, but that these fine names of artisans are being diluted with fakes. I seem to oscillate between copyright protection and reinventing copyright law [re: Girl Talk blawg]. However, there is a distinction between fraudulent reproduction for economic gain and a remixing, reincorporation of art to create new art. The latter is not attempting to pass off their appropriation as the original artist’s, but rather their own. So which is worse? The plagiarist or the imitator?

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  1. Hi Ann!

    "However, there is a distinction between fraudulent reproduction for economic gain and a remixing, reincorporation of art to create new art."

    I tend to agree with you, but then we share a common Western legal education. Intellectual property rights seem intuitively fair. I have had parties on the other side of the fence, however - namely, representing countries where active manufacture occurs, of imitations for consumer sale - argue that through their manufacture, they employ millions of workers that would otherwise suffer from no pay and limited development (read: otherwise peasants), and the imitations bring a great deal of pleasure to the end-consumer (the speaker referenced the open-air markets in a variety of international cities, and the prevalence of imitation purchases).

    True story. The room - 2/3rds full of Westerners - basically had their jaws on the ground. But it was proposed as an honest argument from a credible speaker.

    Does this justification make the eocnomic gain seem any less base (though conceding this may not be the motive behind the wine or art fraud you reference above)?

    See you!! Sls.

  2. Hello Stephanie,

    That seems to be a fair argument and genuine concern - especially concerning counterfeit goods [common with luxury goods]. Harper's Bazaar consistently deplores fake purses because of the promotion of sweatshops and unfair/unethical labor practices. Yet, if we were to improve these sweatshops, will all these employees still have work? Will companies continue to use these developing industrial countries? And what will happen to the economy and the well-being of the people in these countries? I honestly cannot say I which side I would side with - it seems to me that it is more of a question of, what is the better of two evils? And would it be unfair to distinguish fine art and fashion? The lines become so blurred that I think finding even a "fine line" would be difficult/near impossible, and clearly subjective (which is so very common in copyright law).


  3. Hi Ann!

    No - am more of a blank slate on this issue than perhaps is appropriate. To be honest, when I think IP rights, the first thing that comes to mind is licensing protocol and who gets what part of second generation profit. Though I guess both of these could be tweaked to allow the licensee more liberty in how they use the IP in their locale? Dunno - unsure.

    But good post! Have a good weekend! Sls.


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