Rachel Dolezal’s art: infringement, plagiarism, or fair appropriation of Turner’s work? by Professor Tonya M. Evans, Esq. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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The country is, unfortunately, transfixed on and fascinated and/or otherwise perplexed by the former NAACP Spokane Chapter president Rachel Dolezal controversy surrounding her declarations that she is black. Her statements and assertions include misrepresenting on the Chapter’s Facebook Page a black man as her father when, in fact, both of her parents are white.
My interest in Dolezal’s story is not in the racial identity and misrepresentation morass. I’ll leave that to the Twitterverse (#RachelDolezal #AskRachel) and media. But the recent copyright infringement question about the origins of some of her artwork caught my eye.
As HuffingtonPost arts writer Priscilla Frank reported today, Dolezal, … is also an award-winning Mixed Media Artist, according to her art blog. But questions have been raised about whether Dolezal actually created all of her artwork or whether she misappropriated, in at least one instance, the work of another and presented it as her own.
Infringement? No. But there is a strong argument for plagiarism. Review the images and explanations below to understand why and share your thoughts about the issue.
“Rachel Dolezal is an award-winning Mixed Media Artist with over 20 exhibitions in 13 states, internationally, and at the United Nations Headquarters. Dolezal completed her Master of Fine Arts at Howard University, where she majored in experimental studio and minored in sculpture. She has over 10 years experience in community development, human rights education, and intercultural negotiations. She is currently an Art Instructor at North Idaho College, Adjunct Professor of African American Culture at Eastern Washington University, Advisor for the NIC Black Student Association, speaker, education consultant, and exhibiting artist.”
A Comparison of the Works
Below is the image under scrutiny that Dolezal claims as her original, copyrighted work:
Below is Turner’s “Slave Ship”:
Twitter critic, Jolie Adams, created a side-by-side on Twitter in this post:
In my humble opinion, they appear nearly identical. Dolezal’s work seems to be a tighter POV of Turner’s painting, with de minimis modifications of color and tone. Commenters knowledgeable about Turner’s work immediately questioned Dolezal’s claims that she created the work presumably without “inspiration”.
But this isn’t a case of copyright infringement. And here’s why.
Berklee College of Music explores just what “public performance” means in the age of ubiquitous music in @TheMBJ
“All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It, and he said as much in other plays. The public performance of creative works, including the work of songwriters, has to be seen in that context today. The advent of the Internet and digital technologies has blurred the lines of demarcation between public and private places, placing an undue burden on those experiencing or performing copyrighted works as to when a particular performance of a work necessitates obtaining a public performance license from the copyright holder.”
On February 9th, The Huff Post and other media outlets reported the grand opening of a store in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, “Dumb Starbucks”. The clever prankish parody even caught the attention of Forbes:
‘Although it looks like Starbucks, smells like Starbucks and even acts like Starbucks (the super-friendly baristas asking for your name were hired off Craigslist), the whole thing is an elaborate goof on Starbucks culture. A list of Frequently Asked Questions posted on premises compared the place to Weird Al Yankovic’s homage to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Dumb Starbucks, you see, is the “Eat It” of $6 coffee drinks.’ Source: Forbes.com
Amazingly, people stood in line for hours for the Dumb Starbucks java, which reportedly was whatever the local grocery store had on hand for the few days Dumb Starbucks remained open. The locals and media alike seemed to get a big kick out of the entire thing. Starbucks execs? Um, not so much. The Dumb Starbucks mastermind, Comedy Central comedian Nathan Fielder from Nathan for You, explained the method to his parodic madness and the Starbucks response to Jimmy Kimmel recently:
The store shutdown for reasons completely unrelated to the trademark vs. parody debate. It seems that Fielder not only caught the attention of the coffee giant, Starbucks, but also the local health department. The Health Department cited code violations for selling coffee without a permit. And there is no word on whether Fielder will attempt to secure the necessary permissions to re-open. But what is sure to re-open and remain so is the debate on whether the First Amendment and parody trumps trademark law. Read more…
“The London School of Economics and Political Science has released a new policy brief urging the UK Government to look beyond the lobbying efforts of the entertainment industry when it comes to future copyright policy. According to the report there is ample evidence that file-sharing is helping, rather than hurting the creative industries. The scholars call on the Government to look at more objective data when deciding on future copyright enforcement policies.”
“This week, the First Circuit affirmed a $675,0000 statutory damages award against college student Joel Tenenbaum for copyright infringement. The Court held that the damages award, based on Tenenbaum’s illegal downloading and distribution of 30 copyrighted songs, was not excessive or a violation of due process.”