Original photograph copyright of Glenn E Friedman


Public Relations, Plagiarism, and Self Promotion

This is how the World Assembly of Public Relations defined PR in August 1978 :

“The art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counselling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest”.

So….. In a world now where it’s OK to use PR to maintain and promote any image and in turn fight for that image when the image is perceived to be threatened or damaged by a plagiarizer.

Is shameless self-promotion …the only way to go ?

I have taken a couple of examples of recent, contested or problematic image/ownership rights in the arts.

Photographer / Artist : Glen E. Friedman’s Run DMC photograph being re-worked by Mr Brainwash, street artist ; with the ruling that the original had been plagiarised and the re-works to be *removed* (possibility of being destroyed)

Photographer / Photographer ; with Janine Gordon contesting Ryan McGinley’s re-works ; thrown out of court as vagaries of specific body imagery could not be *owned*

Art / ownership ; Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty land lease for this site specific land art and its continuing curation.

But first a little backdrop history:

The Music Industry set a precedent years ago having seen a mix of technological opportunity which enabled copying and sampling.

The realisation of the argument; to say that anything not left in its pure state is therefore plagiarised, on the surface, seems to have been rendered un-navigable with the rapid flux of internet connectivity today. Unless, of course (as always) you have enough time, money and clout to throw at it.

And true, knock-off pirated copying is still very much on the no-no agenda in all the arts. Artists need to get paid. End of.

Although I wish I could be more positive about this simplistic sentiment. There are so many middle men and Mr 20% involved in the promotion of artists, designers, photographers and their work, that altruism is probably only half the story in protecting the original work.

With artists also being protective of their intellectual property or brand from commercial sharks. And legislation leaning heavily toward an overall semblance of control in these *share it* times.

Couple this with social diversity; communities being so poor, having no infrastructure with any wider connective say-so. Or those who are so switched–on they find themselves in a democratic minefield of who is allowed to say what and when. Some fall foul of their on-line presence. Others manage to free-up and share information that otherwise would have been inaccessible to most.

No doubt the internet, as a popular tool, has power. And so in the hands of so many, so relatively quickly, also makes it a moral, social and political soup.

This is an art blog so I am not drawing on wider (and deeper) issues like phone hacking or wiki-leaks and all that has churned up.

I have tried to bring together different aspect within the arts here:

A simple concept really; artist/designer/musician/photographer/writer/journalist has/makes an idea of something out of something and so *captures* it, puts some creative value on it, it can be accepted, rejected or copied!

The arts having different nuances ; all having very different histories and with that subtleties in legislation over the years.

Different mediums of expression but I will use the word captured to refer to the finished piece. Whether it is fashion, photography film, art, music or writing.

And, I am using writing here purposely as the idea of the written word is possibly far more readily understood as a standard tool for capturing and furthering expression of an idea.

As with rip-offs, subsequent similar close-to-the-mark expressions can be seen as a blatant regurgitation or expression of a new idea.

PR uses journalism/writing as one medium to further promote an idea or object. Straight word- for– word regurgitation is now being abhorred (whether paid PR or not…)

But still using the same word format and possibly similar words differently to form another view or opinion, is accepted difference.

The difference of the captured expression is what marks it out as different.

So with that in mind….

The Music Industry >>

Considering the longevity of sampling and mixing within the music business (as opposed to art and even fashion with its rip-off culture now coming full circle sometimes throwing things up much more interesting than the original….)

The mix/music industry is now far more accepting of *sampling* as opposed to *stealing*.

>>The music industry initially resolved the copying issue mostly by making it acceptable to copy as long as a reference was given to the originator and so suing was curtailed to out and out rip-offs. In so the music industry became far more hypothetically in favour of unlimited free use as a means to an end.

An example of Music Industry PR in the 80’s- 90’s. The White Label (usually 12 inch dance music) was already put into clubs 3-6 months before the official artist was named with a release date.

An acceptable form of hype or PR which created demand and interest. The Buzz style of which has been embraced in fashion, film and art.

Fashion >>

Fashion has also had a long history of rip-off culture and subsequent suing. I could name not only high end brands (Asian sports shops emulating actual shop brand design is a current problem for original brands). Friends too with smaller outlets having their own designs copied and done differently (damage can be seen to be done to the original design’s worth, if it is copied badly).

I know of at least one person who eventually gave up on this as the court cases began to take over and lasted years and cost too much. I think “sod him” was the ultimate term he used. He went on to make different designs (some of which …ahem… possibly had a similar nod to the rip-off merchants own…).

High end dress designer Roland Mouret, mentioned here before, while during a talk for Fashioning an Ethical Industry at the Fashion and Textile Museum London. Also expressed exasperation at his designs being ripped off literally as they hit his internet PR machine, way back in 2005. Battened-down secrecy was the only option, as he saw it then.

All was fair in love and war it seemed. But then things moved on in fashion….

Style Bubble’s recent article about Prada brogues and their ASOS counterparts points out that maybe the plagiarism issue in this case is much more about the lower end of High Fashion brands being affected by this done-differently and (slightly) cheaper design than any blatant damage to reputation rip-off issue. ASOS having used a different style and mood of colour mix (gold and silver).


Photography >>

Photography has a long history of *intellectual property rights just as in the film industry. The photograph technically belongs to the originator.


The case last week when a judge threw out a copyright infringement lawsuit against the artist Ryan McGinley. The lawsuit, brought by artist Janine Gordon, was about images that allegedly copied Ms. Gordon’s own photographs :

The judges conclusion…

“ The plaintiff’s apparent theory of infringement would assert copyright interests in virtually any figure with outstretched arms, an interracial kiss, or any nude female torso.”



Two practices converging :

Photography and Art >>

One example recently of two creative disciplines having met like this, is the recent photographer- suing- artist debacle over an original piece of photographic art work.

The original art-work-photograph of Glen E. Friedman’s Run DMC was upheld by a US judge as having been plagiarised by Thierry Guetta (Mr Brainwash) street artist.

It was seen as not being different enough from the original piece to warrant its own status as *art* coupled with possible value-damage to the original piece and its original status.

And there was another distracting, but important issue here as to whether this was also a Banksy/Guetta art joke ; * you can’t sue who you don’t know*. The idea being the identity of Theirry Guetta although real, is supposed to be close to Banksy’s own shadow.

Run DMC by Mr Brainwash

Run DMC graffiti print
Run DMC broken cd's

Run DMC done again differently by Mr Brainwash photograph courtesy

and sampling Irony aside! this remake has been mosaicked with broken cd’s


Art >>

Spiral Jetty, just maybe has the crux of what is going on at the moment within the arts :

Greg Allen; a filmmaker, curator, art collector, web entrepreneur and a philanthropist and an artist in his own right is petitioning for the land lease which houses Roberts Smithson’s Spiral Jetty.

The basic story elaborated on by Felix Salmon‘s reuters blog…is that the land lease is up…and so up for grabs. Utah State Council is opening up the lease for bids and so Greg Allen is bidding (alongside other newcomers) and the original lease holders The Dia Foundation, who have looked after the work up until now.

Spiral Jetty

Whatever the nuances of Allens intention the potential problem is clear:

The work is iconic and so attracts attention. The work was made from the land it sits on and the line between where it starts and where it ends cannot be easily drawn. It was made as a site specific piece and so was captured in this state. It is not replicable. It cannot be valued other than in terms of *public* consumption.

So renders it practically and artistically immoveable aside from the elements taking over.

Whichever area of the arts we are looking at, the point here isnt about theft or using anothers property to form the expression on.

The written word shows how it captures expression;

A word is understood in its singular original form and meaning. A building block.

Words can be rearranged to express different meaning and subtly so.

Cloning is cloning, as is regurgitation, however badly or well done. It has its place.

PR is a delicate and fine art these days and with it brand ownership similarly so.

Social media with all the potentials of the social graph being realised has provided a PR’s wet dream.

The captured image/design/ music/art/written word today is no less its own entity.

It is though being (un altruistically) contested more than before as to who actually owns *it*, and therefore owns its right to exist.

Artists, take a collective creative chill pill, its going to get a whole lot rougher…or more interesting.