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Stop sketching, little girl -- those paintings are copyrighted!

Museum security guard told a child to stop sketching paintings in a museum -- because they're copyrighted.

It is standard operating procedure for students of art to learn by example by sketching masterpieces in an art museum. A budding artist in Durham found that the time honored tradition was challenged while seeking inspiration at the Matisse, Picasso and the School of Paris: Masterpieces from the Baltimore Museum of Art exhibit in Raleigh.

Over the weekend at the North Carolina Museum of Art there were works by Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Degas and some Illanas. Julia Illana is a second grader who was visiting the popular exhibit there with her parents and was sketching the paintings in her notebook. "I love to draw in my notebook," Illana said.

Her sketch of Picasso's Woman with Bangs, which came out pretty good, and Matisse's Large Reclining Nude got the promising artist into trouble with museum security. A museum guard told Julia's parents that sketching was prohibited because the great masterpieces are copyright protected, a concept that young Julia did not understand until her mother explained the term.

Link (Thanks, Cowicide)
If you follow the link, you will find that the museum realized its mistake and apologizes to the girl because, of course, there is no copyright infringement here. What is scary about this story is, just like the notion that ideas (vs the expression of ideas) can and should should be "owned", wrong ideas about copyright propagate very quickly like some bad urban legend and cause this sort of "ignorance creep."

7 Comments

I think copyright mania has reached a quite dramatic point. If girls are stopped sketching, people are stopped citing, and further thinking, because they could infringe copyright doing so.

Where will we be tomorrow?

As a graphic designer, I'm sensitive to issues involving work being stolen, but this copyright lunacy has to stop. If the kind of copywrite laws we have now had existed throughout human history, you can imagine the kind of limits it would have put on human creativity... Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Greek tragedies, as well as his predecessors and contemporaries in the English theatre... baroque artists such as Rembrandt were heavily influenced by Renaissance painting... all of this stuff would have probably been the subject of multiple lawsuits if people were as insane in those days as we are now.

It used to be that when someone's work was copied, they would just go out and try to come up with something even better...


I think the article does "draw" attention to the fact there is a lot of ignorance about copyright law. And perhaps, all the "huffin' and puffin'" in Washington stoked by lobbyists (and now relayed via Washington by the media) is beginning to infiltrate the public's thoughts on this.

I wonder how often things like this happen without it reaching the media? Where young minds are thwarted by such ignorance? The child could have easily have just closed her little book and moved on without any of us knowing. I fear that's happening more than we know.

Sigh... The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a whole section devoted to Van Gogh's copies of other artists' work: Hiroshige, Millet, Delacroix, Rembrandt...

If standing on the shoulders of giants is illegal, no one will ever see further.

It makes one shudder to think that one day art studetns will have to promise by signing a paper that once they get out of museums, they will put everything they saw out of their heads....

I've been away, but this caught my eye as I was trying to scan to catch up. The guard was way out of line. Reminds of the guy at the copy shop who refused to make me copies of copyright registration forms because he thought they were copyrighted. (Not so. You cannot copyright a form or a list or anything else that lacks originallity.) Museums like to place copyright notices of the photographs of the painting in their collection. Also not original if they are true copies. Lots of people know things which just ain't so. This is a good reason to read the law yourself.

What's really scary is that the guard was right and the museum's admin staff was wrong--Matisse died in 1954, his works are still protected by copyright for another 19 years. (Copyright generally extends 70 years past the artist's death). Making a copy--even a crude one--or a derivative work is a violation.

It's still a crummy, insensitive, pointless thing to do to a little girl, but the guard was legally right.

A museum that doesn't like people sketching, photographing, etc. can throw offenders out regardless of whether a copyright violation occurred.

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