Why ideas are worthless in copyright terms

From Arts Hub:

Consider this scenario… let’s call it Situation A. An artist applies for a large commission with a high profile arts institution. Their application includes detailed plans of their proposed project. Yet after receiving news their application was unsuccessful, they realise another applicant has been engaged by the same institution to deliver a project with similarities to their proposal.

Then there’s this circumstance – let’s call it Situation B. An emerging artist opens a dialogue with an esteemed curator about their work. Their discussions, which take place over a number of months, include the artist divulging plans for future artistic projects. After conducting these seemingly trustworthy talks over time, the artist sees that one of the curator’s forthcoming exhibitions has used the artist’s independently conceived ideas as the basis for that show.

What kind of action can these artists take to highlight these injustices and secure compensation for their losses?

The unfortunate news is that in legal terms, neither artist in those situations is likely to be compensated for these breaches of trust, nor would they gain rights to be acknowledged as the original creators of the works.

Basic rules of thumb in IP for artists

The IP outcomes in these scenarios come down to the fact that the laws in this area only cover the creator’s work – they do not cover their ideas.

Aditya Vasudevan is a solicitor with Arts Law, and during his time advising artists in areas of IP law, he has seen a host of different cases where the lines between ideas and artworks have been difficult to discern.

However, when it comes to protecting yourself against any kind of IP infringement there are some basic precautions creatives can take to help lessen their risks.

Number 1: Realise that ideas are worthless

Vasudevan says that fundamentally, artists must realise that in copyright terms, their creative ideas are worthless until those ideas form part of a tangible piece of work – whether that be as a drawing, a painting, a script, a musical score or a work of literature (for example).

‘Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas, concepts or facts. It only protects your specific creative expression of those things in a material form,’ he explained.

‘For example, copyright wouldn’t protect the idea of painting a particular beach at sunset, but it would protect your specific painting of that beach.’

Number 2. Documentation can help you  

The Arts Law solicitor also said that if and when artists decide to take legal action related to breaches of IP in their work, showing documentary evidence of its creation and distribution may help your case.

‘When you create an original work like a painting or sculpture, copyright protects that work automatically. You do not need to register it, but proof is important when it comes to legal processes,’ he explained.

Vasudevan suggested that in a legal case, the judge may look at evidence to show that you created the work, when you created it, how far you got in the process, and who it was shared with.

‘So, a detailed draft sketch for a painting you have named and dated could be enough to protect your idea, because you have fixed that idea in a material form,’ he advised.

Vasudevan also explained that if artists can show evidence of who their work had been shared with prior to the IP infringement, this could help strengthen their case.

Especially in the early stages, keeping records of who you have shared your work with is a good idea.

Aditya Vasudevan, Arts Law solicitor.

‘If someone copies a substantial part of your draft sketch in their painting, evidence that you have shared your sketch with them may help you make a copyright infringement claim.’

Link to the rest at Arts Hub, and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG says that although there are some differences in the copyright laws in the UK and the US, the US laws have definitely influenced by Britain’s laws together with various international copyright conventions and treaties to which both the UK and the US are parties.

The United States Constitution provides the basis for the copyright laws that would later be enacted.

The Constitutional Convention convened in May of 1787. The final document was ratified in September 1787 and the delegates left for home. However, the Constitution required ratification by at least nine of the thirteen states before it became binding on all. Ratification took some time.

Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution in December, 1787. In June of 1788, New Hampshire was the 9th state to ratify the Constitution, which made it binding on all thirteen states by the terms of the document. In July, New York became the 11th state to ratify.

Beginning in December of 1988 and ending on January 10, 1789, the first Presidential Election was held. In February, 1789, the electors selected George Washington to be the first President of the United States.

In April, 1790, the Senate and House of Representatives convened for the first time.

Rhode Island was the 13th and final state to ratify the Constitution in May, 1790.

Article I of the Constitution establishes the Legislative Branch of the US government.
Section 8 of Article I (Enumerated Powers), Clause 8 (Intellectual Property) states:

Congress shall have the Power . . .

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

On May 31, 1790, the first copyright law was enacted by Congress under the Constitution. The new law was relatively limited in scope, protecting books, maps, and charts for only 14 years. These works were registered in the United States District Courts.

Suffice to say, the copyright law has been amended a number of times since it was first enacted. For example, generally, copyright protects a creative work for the life of the creator/author plus 70 years.

This lengthy period of protection is regarded by a sizeable group of copyright aficionados, including PG, as too long a period of time. Yes, it is a “limited time,” but so is one million years.