Volume 18, Issue 1, Spring 2018
Courtney R. Davis
Teaching Copyright: Moral Balancing in the Age of Appropriation
Creative influence, be it in the form of subtle inspiration or unequivocal imitation, has impacted the development of artistic styles and schools of thought for millennia. Since the late twentieth century, appropriation artists have drawn attention to these customs by intentionally borrowing or copying from preexisting sources with little or no transformation, despite these practices running into direct conflict with United States copyright law. Indeed, recent decades have witnessed several noteworthy lawsuits involving prominent artists who have challenged the boundaries between copyright infringement and fair use, raising questions regarding the ethical creation and consumption of art. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the ethical responsibility to teach students of the visual arts about the purpose, theory, and parameters of copyright law, including its inherent ambiguities and risks, in order to foster moral creative practices. Because of the complex nature of copyright law, the author advocates both traditional instruction on copyright principles and applications as well as the encouragement of personal self-regulation on the part of students with regard to their own professional work.