“Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not, is yours. It belongs to you. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking for a rock someone just threw at your head”. – Banksy
Banksy. From local London to the urban US and as far afield as Sydney, Australia, we’ve all heard of him, all googled him and all been in awe of his artistic mastermind. What is it that sets Banksy apart from other creative artists, film directors and political activists? Is it his daring stunts, his satirical humour, or his flagrant disregard for rules and the law? Perhaps it’s all these elements that contribute to his notorious reputation, but the final stroke is in the mystery surrounding his anonymity.
Secrecy has always been the best fuel for flaring discussion and spreading news like wildfire. Aside from that, the sheer nature of Banksy’s work does of course, require his identity to be kept anonymous. How then, does an anonymous artist protect their creative pieces from infringement by others?
The good news for most anonymous creators is that copyright laws protect your work. The period of protection depends on a number of factors, such as country law and the time of release of your work to the public domain (if your work is made available to public). The protective period extends for a number of years after your death, allowing for your successors to benefit economically from any exploitation of your work.
Skipping across to Scotland, the same rule applies to anonymous artists such as the mysterious Scottish sculptor. This artist was known to leave gifts of exquisitely crafted paper sculptures for various libraries, museums and film houses in Scotland. Since all of these were accompanied by tags stating the intent of donating the sculptures to the respective recipients, ownership of the piece belongs to the recipient. Ownership of the copyright is another question entirely. In most instances, when artwork is given as a gift, the copyright remains with the artist. As an artist, if you choose to donate a creative piece, be careful about what it is you are giving away. Depending on the purpose of your gift (is it goodwill or publicity?), you may want to consider allowing a few copies to be made or else consider reproduction for the purposes of preservation.
Interestingly enough though, one of the factors for the duration of copyright protection, pegs the time that your work has been made lawfully available to the public. In many cases, Banksy’s artwork, although visible to the public, is done on private property. This constitutes blatant violation of the law and begs the question of ownership of the art. Take for example this piece of his in Detroit (see image below).
This nifty bit of handiwork had three parties scrambling for ownership, and Banksy was not one of them. The piece was removed by a gallery under the pretext of protecting the artwork which caused quite a stir with the property owner who also claimed ownership. Third to the party was the mayor, who claimed that since the owner was behind on payments of his property, the piece really belonged to the government. Talk about a greedy scramble! And where did all of this leave Banksy? Whilst he has every claim to the copyright of his designs, whether legal or not (even though in his own words, “copyright is for losers”), he has no claim to ownership of the actual piece. The bottom line folks: if you want to claim ownership of your creative works, make sure the platform is legal! What he lacks in concern for legalities, Banksy more than compensates for with his endless wit and raw talent, providing ample inspiration for creative minds.
In the words of Banksy, “a lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to”. Go ahead, be bold, create, jump out of the box and innovate!
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By Ghabiba Modak