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Intellectual Property Rights & the Picasso that Didn’t Sink with the Titanic

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MoMA by Tony Fischer Photography on Flickr

MoMA by Tony Fischer Photography on Flickr

Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” wasn’t on the Titanic when it sunk in 1912, but director James Cameron wanted it to go down with the ship for his 1997 film, so he eventually paid for the right to use its image.

But then came the 3-D version of the film, released earlier this year, and now, according to The New York Times, the Artists Rights Society, a group that plays watchdog for artists and their estates, thinks Cameron should have to pay again.

The argument by the Artists Rights Society is that the 3-D film was not anticipated by the previous agreement and that Cameron should pay for the rights to use it in this new work just as he did for the original; the Society has contacted Cameron, who has not appeared to have commented as of yet.

The real 1907 “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” can be found at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which it has called home since 1939. The Picasso estate was originally against having it appear in the film, but Cameron went ahead and used it, and that is when the Artists Rights Society stepped in — the first time around.

In case you’re wondering why MOMA didn’t challenge Cameron’s use of the painting in either film, it’s because of basic copyright law as it pertains to works of art. The copyright on a work of art generally remains with the artist (or his or her heirs or estate) until 70 years after the artist’s death, regardless as to whether someone else physically owns the work the art; terms may vary, however, for works created before 1978.

That is, according to the Times, just because the painting is hanging in MOMA, the copyright will remain with Picasso’s estate until 70 years after Picasso’s death, i.e., 2043, since the artist passed away in 1973.

Theodore Feder, president of the Artists Rights Society is quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I don’t expect we’ll have any difficulty” regarding getting Cameron to pay for the use of the painting in the 3-D version of Titanic.

Of course, Cameron could have avoided the whole Picasso brouhaha by choosing to include a painting that was already in the public domain. Works of art fall into the public domain when copyright expires.

What do you think of Cameron’s use of Picasso’s painting in the 3-D version of Titanic? Should he have to pay again?


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May 9th, 2012 at 5:32 am