A few months ago, I wrote about how the Art Institute participated in two amicus curiae briefs filed in two significant copyright cases. I am thrilled to report that we are 1-for-1 so far, with a huge victory today in the Supreme Court!
To recap, the Art Institute helped prepare a brief in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., regarding the scope of the “first sale” doctrine of United States copyright law. The first sale doctrine permits an owner of a lawfully made copy (including the original copy) to sell, loan, and display the copy without the permission of the copyright owner. Art museums and many other industry and consumer groups were alarmed when an influential appellate court held that the first sale doctrine applied only to copies made in the United States. Would this mean that museums would no longer be able to acquire, loan, borrow, or publicly display works of foreign-made modern and contemporary art without the permission of the copyright owner?
Thankfully, the Supreme Court decided that the owner of a lawfully-made copy does not need to obtain permission to do these things regardless of whether the copy was originally made in the United States. It was very satisfying to read the court acknowledge our concerns in today’s opinion:
Art museum directors ask us to consider their efforts to display foreign-produced works by, say, Cy Twombly, René Magritte, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and others. . . A geographical interpretation, they say, would require the museums to obtain permission from the copyright owners before they could display the work. . . even if the copyright owner has already sold or donated the work to a foreign museum. . . What are the museums to do, they ask, if the artist retained the copyright, if the artist cannot be found, or if a group of heirs is arguing about who owns which copyright?
The Court expressed concern about upsetting museums’ established practices:
For another thing, reliance upon the “first sale” doctrine is deeply embedded in the practices of those, such as booksellers, libraries, museums, and retailers, who have long relied upon its protection. Museums, for example, are not in the habit of asking their foreign counterparts to check with the heirs of copyright owners before sending, e.g., a Picasso on tour. . . That inertia means a dramatic change is likely necessary before these institutions, instructed by their counsel, would begin to engage in the complex permission-verifying process that a geographical interpretation would demand. And this Court’s adoption of the geographical interpretation could provide that dramatic change.
The Court described these as “intolerable consequences” and concluded that “the practical problems that petitioner and his amici have described are too serious, too extensive, and too likely to come about for us to dismiss them as insignificant—particularly in light of the evergrowing importance of foreign trade to America.”
Image Credit: Vladimir Ivanovich Ladiagin. Untitled, May 10, 1945. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.
35 min 51 sec ago The Art Institute of Chicago APRIL 21—Join us for After Dark in the Modern Wing!
Check out the new exhibition Go with special tours and late-night access. And catch live performances by Monakr and Mano.
Must be 21+. Hosted by The Evening Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago.
18 hours 12 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT A view of George F. Harding’s “castle museum,” built in 1927.
The prominent businessman and politician had already amassed a sprawling collection of artworks, arms, and armor when he built an annex to his home on Chicago’s South Side. The Gothic Revival stone turret—complete with cannonballs embedded in the exterior walls—also included a dungeon and secret passages. Following Harding's death in 1939, the “castle” became a public museum for two decades until it was demolished during an urban renewal project. The collection was eventually brought to the Art Institute, fulfilling Harding’s intention to offer his stunning collection of art, arms, and armor to the people of Chicago.
See Harding's collection like never before in Saints & Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
20 hours 47 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago CLOSING SUNDAY—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality and endemic racism. While his work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.