Thursday, February 01, 2007

Madder now...

Jessica Gould over at the WCP scoops all the art bloggers in town and writes about the artistic and ownership of words controversy caused by the current exhibit at Bethesda's Fraser Gallery, which as most of you know, I used to co-own, and to which (since last year), I have no relationship with, and which is now solely owned, run and directed by Catriona Fraser.



Photo by Doug SanfordThe controversial exhibit is part of Mini-Matic, and the article specifically discusses the work of DC area photographer Doug Sanford.

According to the article, Sanford broke up with his girlfriend because he was screwing around on her, so she then wrote him some nasty emails, and then he later made fine art photographs from some of the words in the emails.

According to Gould, "Some of the words are in larger type, inky iterations of hate. The rest are blurred—streaked with light, smudged, or shadowed."

The ex-girlfriend's name or identity is never revealed in any of the works.

“It was a pretty angry breakup,” he says.

And it’s gotten angrier.

On Jan. 12, the opening day of the exhibit, Sanford’s ex-girlfriend contacted both him and the gallery’s owner, accusing them of copyright infringement and demanding that the photographs be taken down. If they didn’t comply with her wishes, they say, she threatened to take legal action.
According to Torsten Kracht, an attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld, although Sanford “may not be able to claim authorship rights in the underlying text of the e-mail, he may have a copyright in the unique photographic image he created because of the way he has put it together.” Kracht, who is not involved in the controversy, writes in an e-mail that Sanford “has selected only certain words, chosen to blur some of the text at the bottom and brought out the texture of the paper on which the e-mail is printed. That’s all his artistic expression and interpretation.”
Read Gould's excellent piece here.

I am not a lawyer (although it seems like everyone else in my immediate family is) and thus here's my question: I was under the impression that once you hit the send button and send an email to someone... a regular email and not an email containing the full text to your next novel... anyway - as soon as that email hits cyberspace and it's received by the intended recepient(s), then that's all she wrote and the recipient(s) can do anything they want with that email, including photographing it, posting it on a blog, printing it and stapling it to a telephone pole, etc.

So for the copyright lawyers who read this blog: Is that correct? Or does the copyright of an email always belong to the originator?

Although I think that when one writes a letter, the author always owns the copyright to the text of the letter, although the recipient of the letter has actual ownership of the letter itself, and can sell it on Ebay if he or she so desires.

Not that "email copyright" it would strictly apply to this case, as it appears to me that Sanford did not "publish" her emails, but rather took some words here and there (sort of a "visual sampling") and re-presented them in a "new" work of art that is not immediately visually recognizable as the original email.

Update: Bailey offers some advice.

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