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when appropriation becomes stealing

otherwise known as: one of the reasons i'm not a creative director in advertising.

there has been a lot of discussion online recently about the new ad by a well-known english advertising agency, for a large asian global electronics company and i'm going to add my two cents worth. just because, you know, i'm bored.

actually, i decided to write about it today because i met the two artists whose work it's "heavily borrowed" from whilst they were slaving away installing their own gallery show. i asked them whether permission was granted to use their motif and concept of coloured bunnies escaping in a de-saturated city, in such an obvious way. unsurprisingly, the answer was no.

the thing is, this isn't the first time that advertising has 'borrowed' ideas, motifs, designs and concepts from visual artists for the purpose of brand recognition or communication and i have to say it's an area that i'm passionate and biased about. in fact, if you're looking for an impartial viewpoint on it, i suggest you read something like campaign.. creative review... horse and hound.

i've always been interested in advertising. my uncle worked on production for tvcs when i was a kid, my mum and i always used to discuss well made ads when i was growing up, i did essays on the dangers of advertising's power in high school, and now i spend way too much time fucking around on blogs written by people in advertising. but it shits me to tears when creatives like the ones on the recent play-doh bunnies ad, the coloured balls ad (same culprit), the japanese car company cog ad (by another well-respected agency) and others like them, completely rip off ideas executed by well-known contemporary visual artists for the purpose of product placement, without due credit.

creatives? greatest fucking misnomer on the face of the planet.

hell, if the idea is so great and you can't possibly come up with another one, despite being paid truckloads to be 'creative', then get permission and/or credit the artist for fucks sake. just like if you use a song by a musical artist, you have to get permission or at least credit the songwriter and at least pay a hefty chunk of royalty.

i can tell you that 9 times out of 10, the artwork would not have been created to be associated with a commercial, profit-driven branding positioning. and once it has been associated with something as facile as a commodity, FMCG, consumer strategy (or whatever ad wank you wanna go with), then the whole concept of the work is lost to the bottom line and the original execution relegated to 'coulda been..' or 'in preparation for..'

and there's the possibility that the artist will be known as 'oh, you're the guys who originally thought of the moving the car parts for Brand So and So', or 'you're the guys who originally did the Brand XYZ bunnies". how's that for a typecast.

and, having said all that, it does hightlight that old 'fine line' again.

within the visual arts, artists borrow from other artists all the time and either incorporate it into the work - like early Richard Hamilton, or recreate work in a different context, or reference (appropriation) - like Yasumasa Morimura. provided that there is enough of a difference from the original work so that it's not a direct rip-off, doesn't solely rely on the original outstanding motif, or that it doesn't adversely affect the artists' reputation, it is considered acceptable*. both within the industry and in a court of law (well, at least in this country).

so what is that fine line between acceptable appropriation, and downright stealing? is it because, even in an era which avoids talking about the 'romance' or 'soul' of art, we still like our arts to have a sense of separation from the grit of our daily (commerce-based) life? are we back to square one on the whole 'difference between art and advertising' gameboard again? am i just getting way to hepped up about this? do i sound like carrie bradshaw from sex and the city, ending my post with all these unanswered questions? god, i hope so.

*see Arts Law and the Copyright Council of Australia for detailed IP and moral rights legislation in Australia.

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At 20 October, 2007 19:30, Blogger Seb said...

I know, what I am going to write now will inevitable lead to a scenario of you humiliating me with a lot of words I have to look for on urban dictionary before being able to at least understand the half of your tirade. Nonetheless I will do it and want you to know that you're my friend and that a fucking parcel will be on it's way despite what happens here. ha.

I disagree, especially with the Honda case. Even before Fischli and Weiss came up with the idea for theit instalation, I played with the exact same idea on our kitchen table. It's just another interpretation of the domino effect that is used in a game called "Mice Trap" as well. As Fischli and Weiss got inspired by a game who can proof that Honda's agency (what was their name again?) wasn't inspired by domino or "Mice Trap" and not by the work of the artist? And did the whole People's Republic of China (where domino was invented) stood up and said: "Oh, these artist stole our idea of the domino effect!"
Honda did not reproduce the work of artists but used a simple physical rule that has been used in games and films before Fischli and Weiss hardly could think about doing "Der Lauf der Dinge". That's for the coq thing.

With Kozy and Dan it is different because the film is an exact replica of their work. Without a doubt Fallon should have asked for permission to use it and they shouldn't be proud of what they did. But on the other hand it wasn't that bad for the artists as well. I've never heard of them before and probably thousands of people either. So at least they are known now what isn't that bad for an artist, isn't it.

I don't want to defend what Fallon did. It's nothing to be proud of. Copying is wrong. But saying that art shouldn't be used as an inspiration is wrong, either. Because without inspiration art wouldn't exist as well. Everyone gets inspired from somewhere. Bad if you copy 1-to-1, good if you use the inpiration to produce something different or new. Inspiration belongs to everyone and so do ideas. Uh, the last one sounds pathetic.

At 21 October, 2007 06:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree - in sorts - because I have seen too many creative 'ideas' being little more than rehashes of something that has been executed in the past.

However - and this is a big 'however' - this isn't limited to those in the art world ... history has [and continues to be] littered with examples of people and organisations benefiting from others hard work.

I'm not just talking about ads, music, books and movies [not to mention 'art'] but also business and product innovation. Lets remember the Microsoft Windows platform was 'inspired' by the hard work of a bunch of techno guys at a small firm in the US which [if memory serves me] Microsoft ended up buying to avoid later legal 'problems'.

I got slagged off a while back for suggesting original thought is not in such big supply anymore - and while I happily acknowledge great things can come from external inspiration [God it has with me many a time] ... when the result is a blatant reinterpretation of someone elses work [as is often seen in ads] I find it particulary hard to accept.

Who is to blame for this?

Well it would be simple to lay blame at the feet of the creatives who produce the ads but I also think agencies, clients, corporations and research houses have to take a long hard look at themselves because their 'fear influence' ensures creative/idea progression is far harder to achieve than just thinking differently.


Oh and for what it is worth, this was written with the full support of Andy too.

At 21 October, 2007 13:49, Blogger Stanley Johnson said...

I got an invite last weekend to a Kozyndan show. The invite featured a pic of a mythical creature they had developed - half rabbit half fish. Kinda like the rabbit that turns into a whale! Hmm!?

At 22 October, 2007 04:09, Blogger lauren said...

seb - i'm so glad you launched that major rebuttal - i want there to be discussion about this, because although i am opinionated about aspects of this, i acknowledge that there are grey areas and i'm glad about that. and i promise to not use words that you have to look up in urban dictionary. and i'll give you kudos for your honda argument, if you promise that it's not 'party line' because it is a good ad, it's easily part of an idea that's true to the spirit of the product. AND it's still part of a culture that uses art shamelessly, so it gets lumped in with the rest.

i agree absolutely that art needs to be inspiring and being inspired by art (and literature, stan) makes the world go round. this rant wasn't a cause for 'everything has to be original' - because that's not possible anymore (hell, all of post-modernism is based on that thought).

but i'd like to see art inspiring agencies and brands to create something other than a tvc which gets a lot of oohs and aaahs. and this is probably because i think advertising needs to be something other than a tvc anyway. i believe that advertising needs to represent something other than a pretty picture (art) - but to convey something about what it is that you're buying into - and in this case, all sony is getting is that they're willing to just knick stuff from others in order to make pretty pictures, and that they subscribe to the old school 'no such thing as bad publicity'.

and rob - i promise i'm not just blaming the creatives . i just picked on creatives, because at the end of the day, they're the ones whose names are on the awards, in the magazines, and who get all the kudos. and i believe that if you want the positive publicity, then you also have to be prepared to get the negative. please tell andy that he's most welcome to make comments of his own here too.. heh.

and i agree that an agency would produce a tvc which 'borrows heavily' from a well-know piece and not be fully aware of the implications beforehand.

which brings me to my next point: i'm sick of 'there's no such a thing as bad publicity'!!. i know that the agency and sony would HAVE to have known about this long before they dropped the slot and it annoys me to imagine the line of thinking:
option 1: pay for the rights to use the image/idea - $400,000 (eg)
option 2: not pay for the right to use the image/idea and get a whole bunch of mad bloggers talking about it - pretty cool
option 3: get sued and have to pay damages - $400,000 AND have a bunch of mad press and industry peeps talking about it - priceless.

crafty bastards :)

and seb - just because kozyndan have now had a whole bunch of new exposure doesn't make it all ok. despite it being difficult to get exposure as a contemporary artist, and getting exposure can mean that people now appreciate something that might otherwise have gone begging, it's not always pleasant to get exposure for the wrong reasons and i don't think that's what this ad was intending to do. and if it IS what they're intending to do, then they're representing the wrong brand.

stan - you should have gone to the show - it was great.

bloody hell - i think this comment is all over the place and way too long, but hey - it's my blog and i'll be all over the place if i want to.. :)

At 22 October, 2007 11:56, Blogger Age said...

Talent imitates, genius steals?

I think I stole that from somewhere... >;)

At 23 October, 2007 14:53, Blogger Charles Edward Frith said...

Lauren, you may recall your brief for a new commission where the budget was limited. I suggested something and your face 'dropped'.

It wasn't until the next day that i realised it was your idea any way. I'd just absorbed it as if it was mine. But as a planner you know that I'm not idea precious.

Sorry about the Patty Smith ticket. My mobile was dead until Sunday night and it was a bit of a nutty weekend.


At 24 October, 2007 08:45, Blogger lauren said...

age - genius!
charles - will you stop apologising for the ticket fiasco darling!! it's all good - i figured that it was probably a nutty weekend. and about that idea, i had to bin it anyway because it doesn't fit the 'channel', so you can have it back :)

At 07 December, 2007 16:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm way late with this one, as i've only just found the blog...but i work in a commercial gallery, i see big name contemporary artists 'appropriating' ideas from the past everyday, and then selling it as their own work, for lots and lots of money. the difference being that they acknowledge the past, the artists' ideas they're recycling - i'm not saying the work is particularly great, or original. but at least they do acknowledge where or who the idea has come from. and that's my issue with ads (which generally i have a lot of time and respect for), particularly the cog - take someone elses idea, run with it, do whatever you want - but at least acknowledge the original author, and dont try to pass off the idea as your own!


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