Feeds

How to copyright Michelangelo

From the Borgias to Bill Gates

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

It can be argued that this law about artwork reproductions originated as a courtesy to museums and cultural institutions, and sustains their efforts to preserve our artistic heritage. But there are other agencies that operate solely for profit.

Bill Gates, the world's richest man, founded Corbis, the world's largest source for archival images in 1989. There is a (probably apocryphal) legend about Gates conceiving the idea for Corbis because he wanted fine art to display on the large screen TVs in his new mansion. But legends aside, clearly Gates saw that the image brokering business was ripe for exploitation by someone with deep pockets.

Corbis has recently acquired several major sole-source archives of images, such as The Bettmann Archive. Corbis offers many contemporary copyrighted photos, but it also provides copyrighted photos of old public domain works for which Corbis is the only source; this can only be considered a monopoly. Corbis has negotiated deals to purchase the exclusive rights to the entire archives of major museums across the world. The museums transfer copyrights of all their works to Corbis, and Corbis makes the images available for purchase, guaranteeing the museums a revenue stream. Corbis has yet to make a profit from these museum collections, but the museums are locked into long term contracts and they like the money.

Ultimately, it should not be surprising that a monopolist like Bill Gates discovered a clause in copyright law that allowed him to acquire a new monopoly. All monopolies ultimately derive from copyrights or patents granted by government. There is essentially no difference between a monopoly on artworks by Corbis, or a monopoly on computer operating systems by Microsoft.

In a video interview on CNN in March 2006, Gates outlined his vision of Corbis as a commercial hub for image transactions, proposing a system of Digital Rights Management for images. You can see the video here.

Whatever Gates touches, he makes into an expression of his personal business philosophy. The same provisions of copyright law apply to cultural institutions as well as robber barons, the only difference is how those laws are exploited.

Copyright laws are fine, and work for, not against, the public interest. The ability to exploit the rights to Michelangelo's original work permitted a new masterpiece to emerge. But copyright only works if we can rein in the robber barons. ®

Bootnote

This famous Holbein painting was executed in 1533, but the post-restoration photo bears a copyright notice by The National Gallery of London, dated 2002. This painting was restored in 1997, it might have been difficult to get patrons to support an expensive restoration project if the Gallery could not profit from IP licensing of the newly restored artwork. The National Gallery's IP licensing terms are available here.

Charles Eicher is an artist and multimedia producer in the American Midwest. He has a special interest in intellectual property rights in the Arts and Humanities. He writes at the Disinfotainment weblog.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
DOUBLE BONK: Testy fanbois catch Apple Pay picking pockets
Users wail as tapcash transactions are duplicated
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
YARR! Pirates walk the plank: DMCA magnets sink in Google results
Spaffing copyrighted stuff over the web? No search ranking for you
In the next four weeks, 100 people will decide the future of the web
While America tucks into Thanksgiving turkey, the world will be taking over the net
Microsoft EU warns: If you have ties to the US, Feds can get your data
European corps can't afford to get complacent while American Big Biz battles Uncle Sam
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.