Owning Culture: Authorship, Ownership, and Intellectual Property Law

By Kembrew McLeod | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Visual and Sound Collage Versus
Copyright and Trademark Law

I have demonstrated how intertextuality has been a key component in a variety of areas of cultural production, from folk music, hip-hop and African-American oral folk preaching to classical music compositions, “Happy Birthday to You” and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. This chapter similarly examines two more areas of cultural production in which the referencing, borrowing and incorporation of existing cultural texts into new works are commonplace. Here I look at the art world, particularly visual and sound collage, outlining brief histories of these traditions and examining the legal conflicts that have more recently emerged within these areas.

The art world has seen considerably less litigation in the area of intellectual property than, for instance, hip-hop. One significant reason is because the contemporary art world, while commercialized, rarely enters the larger realm of popular culture in which the most significant commercial exchanges take place. It is primarily when “appropriation art” enters into, and makes itself known to, the distribution network of protected cultural goods that artists find themselves embroiled in copyright or trademark lawsuits. Also, because the art world exists in a relatively marginal place when compared with other culture industries such as motion pictures, video games, music and television, artists appear to be more inclined to simply continue their practices of appropriation without concern for legal ramifications.


Sound Collage and Aural Appropriation

At the beginning of the twentieth century, visual artists began experimenting with what would come to be known as collage, a technique that recombines fragments of text and photography taken from newspapers,

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