Basic Copyright Instinct,

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Most copyright discussions focus on abstract concepts like abiding by the law or creator rights vs. maintaining creative dynamism in the society, and these are worthy concepts. But this interesting article from the Guardian on copyright and a pop-art exhibit reminds me that you really can't understand copyright litigation unless you understand the primitive need to make a big payola.

Many 20th centtury artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, made their careers out of repurposing iconic images (many of which were copyrighted) and we all appreciate their genius...even Disney and DC Comics.

On the other hand, the article points out that museum (National Portrait Gallery) is loaded with "Do Not Photograph" signs. In case you're wondering if the purpose is to protect the images from damages - it's not. Reporter Cory Doctorow asked.

Many people have pointed out the ironies before (e.g. Disney has recycled plenty of public domain material), but to me copyright is essentially a right about economics (the right of the creator to make a sweet pay-off if possible). As a generalization, consumers all hate copyright restrictions...unless copyright is protecting our current bottom line as a producer.

Oddly, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis can benefit from pop-art use of their images because of increased exposure (I notice the smart artists don't interfere too much with You Tube because they do get increased video play which may lead to music songs). It makes sense for the estate of Marilyn Monroe to leave the estate of Andy Warhol alone.

But there is a point where free exposure will eat into your profits (hence celebrities and studios also license their images carefully). Hence the National Portrait Gallery would rather not have unlicensed photos in cyberspace - they think it would cut down on visits (you could argue not, but that is what's at stake).

Interestingly, another article, "Prince the artist who formerly liked the Internet" has started an anti-file sharing campaign...despite being a pioneer in legal music downloading. Prince has not given a clear reasons for his change in heart, but I bet it has something to do with revenue.

A lot has been written on both sides on copyright issues, but in the end it really is about how much money you will make or lose in the transaction. I have to confess I've been both sides of it myself.

If I'm strapped for cash and looking for a reference photo of a cathedral window for a craft design, I don't want to shell out some fee for a book or photo license. I admit it, I'm cheap. If I can obtain it from somewhere else, I probably will.

But once I create a design based on said cathedral window - I really don't want to give it away if I think I can get some money for it (especially if I bought a photo license). The main reason I would do so would be to generate free publicity...which would lead to future PAID design opportunities (I dream). There are people who are more generous with their work, but seriously, a lot of them have day jobs. Crafters who earn most of their income from their work tend to be much pickier about how they distribute designs.

My point (and it's a long one) is that it is important to remember the real "primitive" need for maximizing wealth. One side wants to earn money from copyright, the other wants to save money in the consumer end. If you happen to be both producer and consumer (e.g. Disney) - it gets even weirder.

Both sides have a point - which is why copyright will always be a strangely manipulated balance with odd paradoxes.

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