Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image.
by Elena Cooper
Cambridge University Press, 2018, ISBN 978-1-107-17972-1 (Hardback) 304pp.
Whilst the past can be a foreign country, where things are done differently (to paraphrase L.P. Hartley (1)) Elena Cooper's ground-breaking study of the history of artistic copyright from the pre-history of the 1862 Fine Arts Copyright Act (with 1850 as her reference point) to the first 'modern' UK copyright statute, the Copyright Act 1911, illustrates the importance of copyright history if we are to critically examine the current copyright landscape and ongoing policy debates surrounding copyright. And the word 'illustrates' is apposite as the book includes monochrome photographic images related to her discussion--from some cartes-de-visite (including those of lawyers involved in copyright law debates and judgments at the time) to an unauthorised photograph of an engraving of Holman Hunt's Victorian blockbuster painting The Light of the World, which her book discusses. For this is when photography comes of age and, as she highlights, debates about the nature and status of photography are one theme which underpins the express copyright protection of photographs for the first time in 1862 and then how copyright and photographic licensing practice develop later in the century from a studio art form to the immediacy of Kodak snapshots and press photography.
But the book is not just about photographic copyright, much as it features in her discussion. It is an in-depth exploration of a number of themes--informed by a study of the primary sources involving original archival research and by a consideration also of the artistic practices, the art market and business models of the time. These themes are: the protection of copyright authors--painters, photographers and where relevant engravers; art collectors; sitters; and the public interest. The author looks to the past not to better understand a point of origin or to provide evidence for continuity, for example. For her the value of copyright history is its destabilising influence--in the past there are considerable differences yet she argues: "history can sharpen the critical lens through which we view current copyright debates" and can offer us ("lend" in her words) a more flexible way of thinking. (2)
It is fair to say that, when it comes to the history of artistic (as opposed to literary) copyright in the UK, until recently there has been a paucity of...