Category Archives: Week5

J.K. Rowling and the Copyright Infringement

Vittoria Somaschini

harry potter and the sorcerers stone

As I was thinking of cases to use for our class discussion, I kept coming back to the plethora of lawsuits brought against J.K. Rowling as well as the ones that she has brought against other people for the use of her material. I think cases surrounding J.K. Rowling bring up interesting aspects of copyright such as questions of authorship as well as the politics that are deeply embedded in big corporate cases.

One of the most predominate lawsuits that was brought against J.K. Rowling occurred in the late 90’s, as Nancy Stouffer claimed that J.K. Rowling had plagiarized her work and recreated Harry Potter based upon her two books, Larry Potter and his best friend Lilly and The Legend of Rah and the Muggles. However this is not the first nor the last time that J.K. Rowling has been accused of plagiarism. Similarly, she was accused of plagiarizing from Adrian Jacob’s book, The Adventures of Willy the Wizard: No 1 Livid Land. Though in both cases the plagiarizing may seem extremely obvious, I am going to play the devil’s advocate and side with J.K. Rowling for the purpose of analyzing authorship and what it means to be part of the greater literary community as well as appropriation.

Lethem states, “[it] becomes apparent that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production” and J.K. Rowling is no exception to this rule (Lethem, 3). If J.K. Rowling appropriated some terms and remixed them for her own use, then it follows that anyone who partakes in fan fiction writing is appropriating characters, names, and stories, and should be subject to prosecution.

Works Cited

Jaszi, Peter. “On the Author Effect: Contemporary Copyright and Collective Creativity,”.” The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature. Ed. Martha Woodmansee. Durham: Duke UP, 1994. N. pag. Print.

“Larry Potter Returns to Print.” BBC News. BBC, 16 Mar. 2001. Web.

“Legal Disputes over the Harry Potter Series.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Sept. 2013. Web.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” Harper’s Magazine 1 Feb. 2007: n. pag. Print.

Authorship and Collective Culture Then and Now


Estefanía Tocado
Last year while I was working as a research assistant for a Spanish medievalist professor, I spent most of my time investigating a short inscription of the French version of “Prision of Love,” a bestseller in European courts in the 15th century.  As part of my research, I also had the opportunity to digitize a number of books ranging from the 13th century to 16th century from an old film into a digital copy.  While I was doing this task, it kept coming to my mind the idea that all that work and time that I was spending in the dark microfilm room at Lauinger library could have been of great use not only for my professor but for the entire medievalist community if we would have had the copyright laws to publish it on the internet or send to a digitized archive available online.  During that time, I often remembered how in the medieval times authorship and intellectual property was not considered to be something that relevant.  Despite that fact, not much later the figure of the author started to grow.  Nevertheless, authors in many cases did not have the need to claim their work since many times their work was also endowed to other sources (most of the times of classical origin) as a way to legitimize their value or it was a product of the work of more than one author.  In the specific case of the oral anonymous literary form of song poetry “Romancero,” a jongleur would recite it to a local audience eager to hear the juicy plots that often integrated universal topics such as love, revenge, family honor, confronted families, and regional wars.  Then the audience would retell the poem, or parts of the poem, to other members of the community, remembering the entire poem or maybe only the sections they found the most interesting.  That way, through oral retelling of the poems, the network of this literary-oral piece would spread out through communities, regions, and countries.  While this act of retelling the poems was taking place, the stories would suffer adaptations and modifications along the way.  It could be considered, if we extrapolate it to modern terminology, that the poems and the adapted versions were be part of the “collective and generative culture” of their time (Irvine).

In the recent years in the literary criticism field, highly influential intellectual figures such as Michel Foucault have questioned the figure of the author.  As a response to some of the work exposed by Roland Barthes in his article:  “The Death of the Author,” Foucault in his essay “What Is an Author?” questions the construction of authorship and the idea of authorship the way we inherited it from the eighteenth century (Jaszi 29-30).  Later on, scholars such as Peter Jazsi have asserted that the increasing interest in the figure of the author and its domains is based on the cultural figuration of the “author” as the creator of a unique piece of art, and this has interacted with the legal concept of the “author” and its legal property rights (30).  He has also affirmed that in many cases lawyers and judges in legal trials have used the idea of the author-genius derived from Romanticism as a valid claim to challenge copyright laws online.  It has been claimed that:  “computer programs are no less inspired on traditional literary works and the imaginative processes of a programmer are analogous to those of the literary author” (Jaszi 34).  In similar ways as it happened in the medieval oral culture and the “Romancero,” nowadays our main source of literary and artistic culture is called the “internet” and, as in many other cultural manifestations, is in constant renovation and creation of new meanings.  Despite all of the legal controversy related to the regulations of moral rights and intellectual property on the web, I believe that if we want to consider it a window to cultural production and distribution we may want to regard it as one more instrument available to mass population to generate popular culture instead of the individual work that cannot be shared.  Always within some limits and understanding that the “act of creating” has changed since Romanticism and accepting that, as SilviaO affirms in Lawrence Lessig´s book Remix, her voice has become one more instrument among others to remix and generate new ways to interact with individual work and its relationship to collective culture.  Maybe this is the first to step to conceive culture as a shared wealth as well as the “Romancero audiences” understood it back in the time (17).


Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. Communication, Culture, and Technology Department, Georgetown U, Sept. 2013. Web. 30 September 2013.

Jaszi, Peter. “On the Author Effect: Contemporary Copyright and Collective Creativity,”in The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature, ed. Martha Woodmansee and Peter Jaszi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), 29–56.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. The Penguin Press: New York, 2008.



The Photo Face-Off: The Gordon v. McGinley Case and the Role of Copyright in Art

by Abby Bisbee

In 2012, a copyright infringement battle was brought to court between two contemporary photographers. Janine Gordon sued fellow photographer Ryan McGinley arguing that 150 of McGinley’s photographs are “substantially based” off of Gordon’s artwork. It is not a far cry for Gordon to think that McGinley’s work may have been influenced by her own, as their work has been shown at similar museums and galleries for over 10 years ( Their overlapping art journey began in 2002 when both artists had their photography presented at the Whitney – Gordon for the 2002 Biennial and McGinley for his first major solo exhibition. Over the next few years both Gordon and McGinley had their work shown at several of the same galleries including Schirn Kunsthalle and Team Gallery. After almost a decade, Gordon has recently become incensed with the similiarities between the two artists’ artworks and (as a conjecture on the part of this author) the success that the younger artist has had in what she may see as her place. Ryan McGinley has been responsible for several major advertising campaigns, including one for Levi’s.


After reading about this case, I questioned how the it fit into our discussions on appropriation, fair use, and copyright law. According to the article written by Rachel Corbett, McGinley’s legal group has made the statement that Gordon’s accusations do not reflect copyright infringement but rather only the use of similar ideas within the young artist’s work. With that understanding, McGinley’s lawyers have argued that copyright law does not “protect ideas, principles, or explanations – only their manifestations” ( Gordon’s response is that ideas or the “idea-pattern” of a work or works of art are as “deserving of copyright protection” as the artistic and technical elements of a piece of art.

combination of Gordon McGinley Art

Gordon’s artwork (Left), McGinley’s Artwork (Right) for comparison


One of the main difficulties that surround this case is the question of photography in relation to copyright. The most common case of copyright infringement in connection to photography is that of appropriation. Many artists, such as Richard Prince, implement appropriated photographs and alter them to relay his artistic message. In copyright infringement cases involving appropriation, many defendants impart Fair Use, or the use of appropriated material for other purposes “such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, or educational use” (Chilling Effects). In the case of Gordon vs. McGinley, however, McGinley’s photographs resemble Gordon’s work, but do not directly use appropriated material. But with an art form that lacks the technical elements of other genres such as sculpting or painting, how can one definitively say whether a photograph has too much in common with a copyrighted work to be illegal? With a post-modern eye, photography, just like everything else, is “already-seen” or not completely original (Harrison). How does a photographer make an individual mark for himself?


After reading through the elements of this case, I pose a question to the reader. Is this a case (on the surface) of copyright infringement? From examining both the artwork and both sides of the case, I believe that given the history of contact that the artists have with each other and several similarities in technique (lighting, color, composition, etc.) Gordon has a solid argument to win her case. From a theoretical point of view, however, I do not believe that copyright law should penalize artists for being inspired by other artists. In modern society, the “author” as seen in Barthes, was given power and prestige in the 18th century. The individualism that is derived from authorial prestige, however, can destroy creativity and imagination among artists who cannot gather inspiration from their environments and fellow artists in a contemporary society. I agree that certain acknowledgements should be made upon the use of another artists art – particularly in the case of appropriation – but in this case where there is no direct use of formal subject, it is McGinley’s right to draw from his experiences to portray the ideas that he believes need to be disseminated. With that argument, it is pivotal to reflect upon our artistic past and examine some of the greatest masterpieces of our time and understand that without the “already-seen” they would not exist.


Chilling Effects Clearinghouse: Copyright and Fair Use,

Corbett, Rachel. “Art&Copyright: Ryan McGinley Sued in Copyright Case.” Web. 30 Sep 2013. <>.

Nate Harrison, “The Pictures Generation, the Copyright Act of 1976, and the Reassertion of Authorship in Postmodernity,” Art and Education Paper, June, 2012.

Zhang, Michael. “At What Point Does Inspiration Turn Into Copyright Infringement?.” PetaPixel. PetaPixel, 14 Jul 2011. Web. 30 Sep 2013. <>.

Are We All Criminals?

Aena Cho     15899841_1b44e3f11d_z-2

Given the advent of the Internet and increasingly participatory media culture, and remixing and collaboration have become an integral part of our culture.  If there is one concept that has suffered more damage than just about anything else as a result of the ongoing explosion of digital postproduction works, it’s copyright: the idea that a content creator should have virtually unlimited control over his or her creation.  Under current copyright law, nearly every cover song on YouTube, every fan-made music video, every mashup album, every supercut, and every fanfic story is technically illegal (Baio, 2011). In the age of digital remix culture, indeed, intellectual property rights are messy” and often lead to complex legal disputes.

According to a digital journalist, Andy Baio, there are almost a million videos on YouTube that contain phrases like “no copyright infringement intended” or invoke the “fair use” clause in U.S. copyright legislation. In the vast majority of cases, these videos are most likely illegal under the current copyright law (Baio, 2011).  Whether fair-use principles would apply to these kinds of creations is a more difficult question to answer, since the definition of fair use is notoriously complex (Baio, 2011).  Nonetheless, no matter how strict and complex the copyright related laws are, it is now a fact that remixing is now the norm in our contemporary digital culture.  Although many of the YouTube uploaders should be regarded as criminals, under the copyright law, what they are doing is still considered as normal in our culture.

Thus, so far, it seems that there is no smart, clear-cut solution yet to solve the legal issue with the user-generated, remixed digital contents.  There would always be people and corporations who are only concerned with their economic benefits, no matter if this will eventually prevent the innovative remix culture to grow.   However, there have been many approaches to encourage the remix culture to further flourish; one of them is to form and grow a community of the remix culture in order to advocate the culture and works and help the artists to protect themselves from lawsuits or legal threats involving copyright issues.

totalrecut-150x141  The best example of that approach is Total RecutTotal Recut is a social networking, video sharing and resources website for fans and creators of video remixes, recuts and mash-ups, where users can submit, view, share, rate and comment on user generated remixed video clips (Wikipedia). It was created in June 2007 as a result of the Masters Degree project of an Irish graduate student, Owen Gallagher (Wikipedia).  According to the creator, Gallagher, it is actually intended to find a middle ground between two extremists on both sides of the protection of copyright and the freedom of expression (Jenkins, 2008).  Therefore, it encourages the users to not only be innovative but also “appropriate” remixed artworks which respect the authorship of the original source materials that their works are derived from.  For example, it provides a tutorials section, ‘Remix Academy’, to teach the users everything they need to know to produce a video remix in appropriate ways.  It provides them information and links to literature and websites about remix culture and intellectual property issues.  Such a group or community approach will definitely help the remix artists better exercise their right of freedom of expression and continue to produce new work, despite the threats by overzealous copyright owners. Most importantly, as such a website functions as a showcase for remix artists to present their works in public, it promotes the remix culture and will hopefully change the perception of many people that remixes are not creative and interfere with the economic profits of the authors of the original sources – that “the remix culture is all illegal” as Baio put it.

Work cited

1. Baio, Andy. No Copyright Intended. Dec 9, 2011. <>

2. Jenkins, Henry. “What is Remix Culture?” An Interview with Total Recut’s Owen Gallagher . Conffession of Aca Fans. June 2, 2008.

Mash-up Culture: A Look at Girl Talk

By: Arianna Drumond


In 2002, Pittsburg native Gregg Gillis, better known by his musical persona Girl Talk, released his first album, “Secret Diary,” under the controversial Illegal Art label. Over the last decade, Gillis has released five albums, each of which has received a great deal of attention not only for their infectious dance beats, but also for Gillis’ unabashed sampling of the original works of popular musicians.

Gillis has reached celebrity status within the remix community for his artful combining of songs from various artists and genres. The first song off his 2010 release “All Day” showcases no fewer than 24 unique clips from 22 artists. While some might consider Gillis to be nothing more than a skillful DJ, the artist insists that his work is unique and deserves to be treated with the same deference as the work of any other mainstream pop musician. “I want to be a musician and not just a party D.J.”  “And like any musician I want to put out a classic album (New York Times, 2008).”

Oh No

The controversy surrounding Girl Talk hits at the very foundation of Gillis’ work. In order for the sampling to be cleared under copyright law, Gillis would have to get permission from both the publisher and owner of each individual sound recording. Due to the fact that Gillis makes use of several dozen samples per song, a single five-minute track produced under the Girl Talk moniker could cost tens of millions of dollars, a cost that would certainly prohibit the creation of multiple works (Copyright and Mashups). Instead of navigating the complicated channels of copyright law, Gillis continues to toe legal line. Since he takes such small portions of a song and rearranges each clip so that it is almost unrecognizable, Gillis argues that his work falls within the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law.  In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Gillis stated:

 “I basically believe in that idea [of Fair Use], that if you create something out of pre-existing media, that’s transformative, that’s not negatively impacting the potential sales of the artist you’re sampling, if it’s not hurting them in some way, then you should be allowed to make your art and put it out there. I think, even in the years of doing this, the conversation has shifted a good bit (Forbes).”

Even though Gillis’ employment of the fair use doctrine is questionable, it is significant to point out that Girl Talk has not, as of yet, been sued for copyright infringement. In his blog “Pittsburg Trademark Lawyer,” attorney Daniel Friedson suggests that a legal battle between Gillis and any of the major record labels and their artists would do more damage than good. Artists and academics supportive of the mash-up culture argue that copyright law is already too prohibitive, that artists should have more room to borrow and manipulate existing works. Opponents, namely record industry executives, of course wish to protect their musicians, and their investments. The issue is made even more complicated by the fact that Gillis has released all of his albums free for download on the Illegal Art website, or has asked that fans pay whatever they are able. Since Gillis isn’t profiting from the sale of his albums, the legal issues surrounding his discography are fuzzier.

Regardless of the legal issues, Gillis says that he will continue to make his mash-ups and will continue to consider them as art in their own right. He argues that he is not only creating something new, but is taking great pop music and reinterpreting it, a process that in a way, honors the original artists and their work.


“Copyright and Mashups: Girl Talk.” Copyright and Mashups:  Girl Talk. Accessed September 29, 2013.

Pittsburgh Trademark Lawyer Contributors. “Girl Talk and Copyright Law: Is ‘Illegal Art’ Really Illegal?” Pittsburgh Trademark Lawyer. Accessed September 29, 2013.

“Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis On Copyright, Curation and Making Mashups Rhyme.” Forbes. Accessed September 29, 2013.

Levine, Robert. “Steal This Hook? D.J. Skirts Copyright Law.” The New York Times, August 7, 2008, sec. Arts / Music.