copyright and surrealism/dadaism

Some of my recent research was about the effect of digital copyright laws on the practice of dadaist photomontage. That involves appropriating images, often from popular culture, then juxtaposing these images with other images and/or text to create new meanings. Often those new meanings are satirical, but there are no rules about that. Needless to say, on image-sharing web sites this art form cannot be practiced. Yes you can do photomontage, but keep it to your own images and don’t enter into visual dialog with mass culture.

I was seeing that as one of the excesses of the digital copyright regime, but something has happened this week that makes me wonder if indeed those who I thought were fascist copyright freaks are not actually surrealist conceptual artists working with society as their canvas.

So what happened? The Canadian Mint has declared that it owns the words “one cent”, and it owns the image of that coin (also called a penny), and needs to be paid money for the use thereof. It has actually sent a bill for over $47,000 to the OneCentNow campaign, which is a good start. Think of the scope of this one: all the coinage of all countries using decimal currency could fall under this copyright claim, and every time anyone advertises the price of their goods they should pay a royalty to the Canadian Mint, and so on. And it is cheap at the price, compared to what happened to Jammie Thomas over her music downloads.

I’m so glad my name is not Penny.

That’s my two cents worth anyway (uh oh).

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