Art, Technology, & Intellectual Property

The American Assembly

2002, 60 pages. American Assembly, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 456, New York, NY 10115, 212-870-3500,

Art, Technology, & Intellectual Property provides an excellent summary of intellectual property questions faced by the arts community, both nonprofit and for-profit.

This pamphlet is brief (thirty-five pages of text), but lists salient points relating to the arts community and its intellectual property interests. Derived from the proceedings of an American Assembly program on the topic, the pamphlet is the first draft of a book that will address art, technology, and intellectual property in depth.

By providing a forum for arts community members with varying interests to convene and discuss intellectual property, the American Assembly began a discussion that raised questions and offered potential solutions. Representatives from academia, philanthropy, media, law, publishing, and museums presented their ideas and concerns about art, technology, and intellectual property as they affect specific arts fields.

Participants agreed that new and changing technologies have given arts organizations a means to reach new and wider audiences, but have also brought new challenges as art, technology, and intellectual property intersect. The Assembly addressed concerns of many arts community participants: artists, arts organizations, audiences, consumers, and corporations.

Questions posed included: How do arts organizations determine which art works are in the public domain? How will artists retain their rights in new media? What is the difference between creating a work and owning a work? What is considered "fair use"?

To answer these questions, the pamphlet reviews the evolution of copyright laws and how new technologies have changed the way these laws are applied. It explains how copyright laws are intended to benefit copyright holders, how copyright protects the public interest in art, and how rights are enforced under copyright. However, current copyright law protects "the 'container' within which the creation existed," while technologies allow the content created to become disassociated from the container and "beyond the control of the rights holder." (pp. 13-14) Now, as the "container" has changed, creators and other copyright holders have less control over the distribution of their content.

The pamphlet also covers the mechanisms that exist to ensure the correct implementation of copyright and intellectual property rules. The current regulatory system provided by the U.S. Copyright Office is reviewed as are the systems used by labor unions, licensing clearinghouses, and other organizations to manage copyright information for their constituents. While these organizations help manage copyrights, many gaps still exist, such as the lack of an easily-accessible, central repository of all copyright information.

The Assembly discussed possibilities for a new, more appropriate copyright management system that would serve the intellectual property needs of the arts community by adapting examples already used by the for-profit community. Suggested models include digital catalogs with licensed access, subscription services for audio-streaming rights, and the digital archives of journals with membership fees. Solutions could include the creation of a copyright conservancy, a locator system or registry, or authentication databases.

The pamphlet concludes with recommendations for addressing the questions raised and continuing the discussion started by the Assembly. Overall, Art, Technology, & Intellectual Property is a solid reference tool for the intellectual property concerns of the nonprofit arts.

Cara Seitchek, Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County