ADM-HEA Creative Learning and Teaching Day

Back in November, I attended the Art, Design, and Media Creative Learning and Teaching Day organised by the Higher Education Academy’s Art, Design, and Media Subject Centre which was held at Ravensbourne. In the morning session, I gave a joint presentation with UCA‘s Digitisation Services Manager, Polly Christie, on the UCA Library‘s recent digital projects including some recent projects by VADS, such as the JISC-funded Spot the Difference project:

There were some interesting discussions after the session about remix culture and the recent web video series Everything is a Remix. One of the attendees also pointed me to an interesting copyright case – the Lenz vs Universal Music case in the US. In 2007, Lenz posted a home video of her baby dancing to Prince’s song ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ on YouTube, and Universal Music issued a takedown notice, which was followed by a counter claim by Lenz for ‘fair use’ under US law. The case has been used as the basis of an assignment for communications students at California State University (see: Let’s go crazy: teaching media literacy with remix practice). For the assignment, students are asked to create their own parody video or remix of the original ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ video.

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JISC Innovating e-Learning Online Conference

Last week I attended the JISC Innovating e-Learning Online Conference and as part of the pre-conference Activity Week, I also gave a Prezi presentation on the Spot the Difference project:

During the conference several attendees have contacted us who are interested in testing and giving feedback on the project’s pilot visual search tool when it is available in early 2012. During the event we also had some interesting questions and discussion about copyright issues and the lack of a digital equivalent of the DACS blanket slide licensing scheme for Higher Education; the difficulty with using Creative Commons images from Flickr because the person who uploaded the images may not always have the right to grant those rights; as well as applications of visual search technology such as the reverse image search engine by Tineye.

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New article on plagiarism from IdeasTap

VADS was recently interviewed by Caroline Roberts from IdeasTap for an online article on the topic of plagiarism in the creative arts.

IdeasTap is a UK-based creative network and funding body for emerging arts talent. The article entitled ‘Plagiarism: the lowdown’ cites our research project, and also discusses the impact of the Internet on copying, the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement, and the fact that nothing can be said to be totally original. The article also discusses a number of recent allegations of plagiarism relating to paintings by Bob Dylan, music videos by Beyonce, articles by journalist Johann Hari, and the stationary chain Paperchase.

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Posting and giving credit in a blog

The topic of referencing is not only relevant in an academic context, but has also been the focus of recent debate and interest from several bloggers who write about and share creative work online. Earlier this year, this discussion led them to create this poster on how to include and credit images in a blog.

The poster was created as a collaboration between Pia Jane Bijkerk, design blogger Erin Loechner, and Yvette van Boven who provided the handmade fonts:

Giving credit poster by Pia Jane Bijkerk, Erin Loechner, and Yvette van Boven
Giving credit‘ poster by Pia Jane Bijkerk, Erin Loechner, and Yvette van Boven, used with their permission.

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Staff interviews and online survey completed

The project survey has now closed at the end of August after receiving 158 responses from staff across the arts education sector.

The survey included a number of questions about the nature and meaning of the term ’visual plagiarism’ and the issues that it raises.  One-to-one interviews have also been held with 8 members of teaching and academic support staff across a number of specialist arts universities, to explore the topic of visual plagiarism in more detail.

Thank you to everyone who has very generously spared their time and expertise to assist with this research both through participating in the online survey and by speaking to me by phone, Skype, and in person. The findings of this research will be made available later in 2011/12.

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Appropriation art and copyright law

Whilst appropriation or homage to existing works has been a key practice in the history of art (see earlier blog post), the interpretation of what is acceptable under UK copyright law can be somewhat different.

There is a useful online video that discusses this dilemma, which has been created by Artquest as part of their Artlaw TV series which provides online legal information for artists. The video includes artist David Mabb and art lawyer Henry Lydiate talking about Mabb’s appropriation of the work of William Morris as well as a run-in with Magnum Photos:

Art and Appropriation - when does artistic freedom become copyright infringement? by Artquest
Art and Appropriation – when does artistic freedom become copyright infringement? from Artlaw TV, used with permission from Artquest.

As the video explains, artistic works are protected by UK copyright law for the duration of the creator’s life plus 70 years after their death, and artists who base their work substantially on these existing works without first gaining the copyright holder’s permission are likely to be infringing copyright. As Lydiate states, although the intentions and meanings behind two works may be different, it is the amount of visual similarity to the layperson’s eye which matters in terms of UK copyright law.

Copyright cases relating to appropriation art in the US

There have been several high profile cases in the US in recent years, in which well known appropriation artists have been accused of copyright infringement, with some differing outcomes:

  • Richard Prince made use of Patrick Cariou’s photographs of Jamaican Rastafarians without permission in his ‘Canal Zone’ series, which resulted in a 2011 US court case ruling in favour of Cariou as well as an order for the works to be destroyed (see the article by Charlotte Burns in The Art Newspaper).

  • Shepard Fairey eventually settled out of court with Associated Press in 2011 in relation to his famous ‘Hope’ poster, which was based on a photograph of Barack Obama taken by a photographer for Associated Press. Both sides stand by their differing interpretations of the law, but have come to a financial settlement as well as an agreement to work together on a new series of images based on the agency’s photographs (see the BBC News article).

  • In another reported case in 2011, a US court has ruled against Thierry Guetta, aka Mr Brainwash, in relation to his use of a photograph of the rap group Run DMC taken by Glen Friedman. This case also adds a further twist to Banksy’s 2010 film about Guetta’s transformation into an artist (Exit through the Gift Shop), which some viewers suspected was a Banksy hoax and that Guetta was simply a fictional character (see Ben Child’s Guardian article).

  • In a US court case in 2006, artist Jeff Koons successfully defended his use of a photographic advertisement by Andrea Blanch. The photograph showed a woman’s feet wearing jewel-strapped sandals, which Koons had re-photographed and used with other images in a collage painting. Although this was a victory for the appropriation artist, it comes after Koons had lost three copyright infringement cases in relation to other works made earlier in his career (see PACA Update).

Copyright cases relating to appropriation art in the UK

It is worth noting that US and UK law are not the same and that the US concept of ‘fair use’ is ‘wider, more general and permissive’ than in UK copyright law, which currently takes a more conservative approach (Lydiate, 2009).

Whilst there have been accusations of copyright infringement and out of court settlements in relation to appropriation art in the UK, there doesn’t yet appear to have been any court decisions made directly in relation to appropriation art.

The Artquest video describes one very well known dispute which was resolved out of court in relation to a painting by British artist and Turner Prize nominee Glenn Brown in 2000, and its similarity to a painting by Tony Roberts that appears on the cover of a 1970s science fiction book. Another well known British artist who has faced several accusations of copyright infringement is Damien Hirst. In 2000, Hirst reached an out of court settlement in relation to his 20 foot bronze sculpture ‘Hymn’, due to its similarity to the Young Scientist Anatomy Set. As part of the settlement, Hirst agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to two childrens charities and restrictions were placed on future reproductions of the work (see BBC article).

Appropriation artists protecting their copyright

In a reversal of roles, some appropriation artists have sought to protect their copyright and to prevent other artists from appropriating their work. For example, in 2008 the press reported that the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) had written on behalf of Hirst to the 16 year old school boy and artist, Cartrain, who was selling collages online which used photographs of Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, including some which imposed the skull over the faces of figures taken from other photographs. DACS asked for the works to be removed from sale and a £200 payment, which Cartrain complied with (see Arifa Akbar in The Independent).

In another reversal of roles, American artist Jeff Koons sent cease and desist letters in 2011 to the manufacturer and retailer of dog balloon shaped book ends, which he considered were violating the copyright of his large scale stainless steel sculptures of balloon dogs, a claim which he later backed down from (see Kate Taylor in the New York Times).

Balloon Dog Book End from Park Life Store
Balloon Dog Book End, used with permission from Park Life Store, San Francisco.

Further Information

This blog post only touches on certain aspects of UK intellectual property law, and for further information on copyright and intellectual property, see the Artquest and own-it websites which provide information and advice to artists and the creative sector. The key legislation in this area is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Brief history of appropriation art

One of the reasons why the topic of visual plagiarism is much more complex and nebulous than the topic of text-based plagiarism is due to the long artistic tradition of appropriation, which involves copying elements or using the whole of an existing object or artwork in a new artwork.

Appropriation art is characteristic of a number of twentieth century art movements and well known artists up to the present day.  Although it can sometimes cause controversy and sometimes have legal implications (as discussed in another blog post), it has also become a defining practice in the history of art. A very brief overview of its development and some of its techniques is given below:

  • Collage – The origins of appropriation art in the twentieth century can be traced to the Cubist collages of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque made from 1912 onwards, in which real objects such as clippings from newspapers were included to represent themselves.

  • Found objects – A few years later Marcel Duchamp began to use ‘found objects‘ or ‘readymades‘, such as the famous Fountain in 1917, which consisted of a urinal signed with the pseudonym ‘R.Mutt.’ Duchamp even incorporated a postcard of the Mona Lisa into his piece entitled L.H.O.O.Q., on to which he drew a moustache and beard. Duchamp’s readymades questioned the conventional notions of art as something unique, handmade, and aesthetically pleasing, and instead suggested that the choice of object is the creative act and art is what is defined by the artist. Everyday objects were also appropriated by other Dada artists and later by the Surrealists, for example, Salvador Dali’s Lobster Telephone.

  • Pop art – Pop artists in the middle of the twentieth century drew from imagery in post-war popular culture and the commercial world, challenging notions of ‘high art’ and ‘low art’. For example, Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles as well as his silkscreen paintings based on photographs of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe.

  • Re-photography – The term appropriation art seems to have come into common use in the 1980s in relation to the work of a number of American artists such as Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine. Prince and Levine both created photographic works of existing photographs, which challenged the very notions of artistic originality and authenticity. For example, Prince’s series of photographs of Marlboro cigarette advertisements of cowboys, and Levine’s After Walker Evans series, which consists of reproductions of well known depression-era photographs by Walker Evans taken from an exhibition catalogue.

Various forms of appropriation are used by artists up to the present day, such as Damien Hirst, Glenn Brown, and the street artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey.

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Project survey

We would like to hear your thoughts on the meaning, nature, issues, and extent of visual plagiarism by completing our short online survey at:

The survey aims to collate the experiences and perceptions of both teaching and support staff across the arts education sector. The results of this survey will feed into the Spot the Difference project, and the survey will be open throughout August 2011 and can be filled in anonymously. Please forward this survey on to any colleagues who may be interested in taking part, and we are grateful for your time and assistance in this research.

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Digital image déjà vu

In addition to working on the Spot the Difference project, VADS also provides a growing online searchable collection of over 120,000 digital images of art and design, which are contributed by libraries, museums, and archives across the UK for non-commercial use in learning, teaching, and research.

Recently we’ve had some discussions about how to deal with a few instances where we have received multiple digital images of the same artwork, which have been photographed or scanned as part of different digitisation projects, and then contributed to the VADS image database by different people at different points in time. We looked at why these duplicates exist and whether it would be useful or not if they were hyperlinked or grouped together in some way. (This duplication also got me thinking about the Spot the Difference! project, which I’ll come on to later).

Firstly, here are the reasons why there are a handful of instances of duplication in the VADS database:

1) Multiple editions – some artworks may form part of a series of identical editions held in different collections (such as the screen prints by Tim Mara) or there may be mass produced objects such as posters or sewing patterns held in different locations.

Address your Letters Plainly', poster by Tom Eckersley, c. 1934, from Imperial War Museum

Address your Letters Plainly', poster by Tom Eckersley, c. 1934, from Tom Eckersley Archive, University of the Arts London
‘Address your Letters Plainly’, poster by Tom Eckersley, c. 1934.
Top: poster from the Imperial War Museum.
Bottom: poster from the Tom Eckersley Archive at University of the Arts London.

2) Multiple physical reproductions – as well as digital photographs or scans of an art or design object, there may be scans from analogue reproductions of that object, such as scans from old 35mm slides.

'Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks - Please Knit Now', poster by Abram Games, from Imperial War Museum    'Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks - Please Knit Now', poster by Abram Games, from Design Council Slide Collection
‘Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks – Please Knit Now’, poster by Abram Games.
Left: poster from the Imperial War Museum.
Right: 35mm slide showing the same poster, from the Design Council Slide Collection.

3) Multiple digital images – on a couple of rare occasions, VADS has received two different digital images of the same unique artwork, which have been captured as part of separate digitisation projects.

'Portrait of Carel Weight', painting by Robin Darwin, 1957, from Royal College of Art Collection    'Portrait of Carel Weight', painting by Robin Darwin, 1957, from Royal College of Art Collection
‘Portrait of Carel Weight’, painting by Robin Darwin, 1957.
Left: digital image from the Royal College of Art’s contribution to the Fine Art project.
Right: digital image from the Royal College of Art Collection.

'Flat Packed Rothman's', painting by Stephen Farthing, 1975, from Royal College of Art Collection    'Flat Packed Rothman's', painting by Stephen Farthing, 1975, from Royal College of Art Collection
‘Flat Packed Rothman’s', painting by Stephen Farthing, 1975.
Left: digital image from the Royal College of Art’s contribution to the Fine Art project.
Right: digital image from the Royal College of Art Collection.


This duplication also raises some points that are relevant to the Spot the Difference project’s investigation of visual plagiarism, referencing, and visual search technology:

  • Unintentional variation – the images of the paintings directly above show the level of unintentional variation that is introduced by the photographer even when digitising exactly the same two-dimensional artwork, such as differences in colour and background. Humans can immediately discern and disregard these aspects, but how will such variations affect the search results from a content-based image retrieval system?

  • Loss of context – the proliferation of digital versions online is further exacerbated by the fact that images are sometimes reused on multiple websites, blogs, and microblogs like tumblr. These images may appear without their original description and metadata, making it difficult to accurately attribute these visual sources and to know what their terms of use are.

These sorts of questions and issues have also been raised by art teaching staff this week during the first few interviews that we’ve been conducting for the Spot the Difference project. We’ll be updating the blog with more information about our user research over the coming months.

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Workshop on Turnitin and academic integrity

In June I signed up to attend staff training on Turnitin and academic integrity run by the Learning and Teaching Department at UCA. This was my first experience of using the Turnitin software which is utilised in a number of universities to check written work for text-based plagiarism.

The workshop was really useful for gaining some initial insights into the issues that are faced surrounding text-based plagiarism. This included:

Text-based plagiarism detection software is effective but not perfect

Turnitin compares student work against an extensive index of websites, articles, and previous student papers. It proved easy to use and effective at finding copied text, but as with all technology, there were some foibles to look out for. For example, any text that is given in double quotes will be disregarded, whilst any text in single quotes will be highlighted by the software as plagiarism. The software also doesn’t detect content taken from very recent publications, for example, we found that it couldn’t detect a ‘copied and pasted’ newspaper article that had been published online in the last few days. The workshop leader therefore confirmed that Turnitin is an additional technical aid to assist staff rather than a replacement for human judgement and appraisal.

Balance between formative and punitive

This leads on to another point made by the workshop leader about the potential use of the software as a formative learning tool for students and not simply as a detection tool for staff once students’ work has been submitted. We were shown how students can check draft essays using the software before their work is handed in for marking. We were also introduced to the new academic integrity web pages on the university website which provide information and advice to staff and students on referencing and plagiarism. UCA Library has also developed In-Cite, a series of four online tutorials to explain why, how, and when students should reference sources.

In-Cite online tutorials
In-Cite online tutorials by UCA Library and web design by WildSide Web Design.

Time is of the essence

The issue of staff time and busy teaching schedules was also raised. It was noted that the university’s Study Advisory Service can also provide help and support in this area and offers bookable tutorials for students to develop their research skills and academic writing skills.

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