18 February 2019

Conceptual art and copyright

Herman Croux chaired the Round Tables on 18 February 2019 of the Belgian Copyright Association and led the discussion on conceptual art and copyright with Dirk Snauwaert, Director of Wiels, one of the leading institutions for contemporary art in Europe, without a permanent collection. Conceptual art which is not specifically related to a material expression cannot be protected by copyright, but is sold on the market or to museums through certificates or derived works (such as photographs). An idea cannot be monopolized: this is stated on the first page of every handbook on copyright. Lawyers will therefore deny originality, whereas art critics and art historians will stress the originality in their own way of conceptual art works. Even if a copy would be legally allowed, it would have no artistic merit. Famous examples include Le Vide by Yves Klein (the gallery space was empty, but for a large cabinet), 4.33 minutes of silence by John Cage, and A line made by walking by Robert Long. Legal protection by copyright might be absent, but fair practices or actions against passing-off might be legal grounds to oppose ‘copies’.


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