Art association

How the College Art Association Missed Fair Use for its Conference Presenters



The College Art Association’s 2021 virtual conference edition is now over, having wrapped up its four days of live events on February 13. Everyone involved is undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief that the large-scale company has come forward with only a modest number of technical issues. But even though hundreds of sessions went off successfully, others disappeared from the agenda before the conference began, and the conflict that led to their withdrawal suggests an organization that needs to reconsider key aspects of its mission.

One of the cancellations was a very timely session on “Copyright in the Age of Remoteness” where I had to present an article. Having presented several times since I joined CAA in the 1980s, I thought I knew what to expect. On this occasion, however, I was stopped in my tracks by a presenter agreement that required contributors to cede extensive rights, made no reference to fair use, and put all liability risks on the speakers. A public outcry forced the CAA to undertake revisions at the 11th hour, but for some of us the changes were too small, too late.

As part of a planning process that led art historian Rebecca Zorach to resign from his post as chair of the annual conference committee, the CAA chose a format where speakers would be responsible for recording and uploading their speeches well in advance of the actual conference. According to instructions released in October, only associated Q&A, scheduled in half-hour increments, would be live and all material would remain available online until mid-March.

A few presenters soon began to voice concerns about the deal – to no avail, as Nancy Sims, copyright librarian at the University of Minnesota, told later. Others (including this author), mired in the demands of pandemic education, did not focus on the details until after the fall semester was over.

The language suggested an organization modeled after American companies, rather than modeling provisions designed to protect the interests of its members. Speakers were required to ensure that they had obtained “all necessary permissions” for their visual materials, to indemnify “CAA, its licensees and its and their agents, representatives and assignees from all liabilities, claims and costs” and to grant CAA a “perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free unconditional release” which included the right to “create derivative works of the program and any recording of the program, in any form or on any medium, whether currently known or that they can be further developed ”. There was also no compensation offered; Substantial membership and registration fees meant presenters were encouraged to fork over both money and fees in order to share their work.

CAA’s organizational structure includes a strong intellectual property committee that focuses on protecting the interests of its constituents, but it later emerged that the committee as a whole had not been consulted on the deal and that comments from the Co-Chairs were largely ignored. While problematic on many fronts, the most surprising aspect of the deal was its withdrawal from the CAA’s own advocacy, articulated in its groundbreaking 2015 report. Code of Good Practice for Fair Use in the Visual Arts, which was designed to give artists and art historians the tools to break free from a “culture of permissions” around images.

In mid-December, the wave of opposition included a large group of presidents and directors of university graduate programs, whose letter cited the language of permissions, the threat to presenters’ intellectual property, and dangerous precedents for online university exchanges in general. Another letter, curated by art historian Allison Morehead via social media, was ultimately endorsed by over 200 people. Possibilities of a alternative forum were also discussed – and a site to post links to withdrawn documents and other online events was subsequently produced.

The CAA initially responded with an online FAQ that belatedly referred to fair dealing and tried to reassure presenters that the organization would not actually exercise many of the rights they claimed. It wasn’t until New Years Eve that the CAA announced a revised deal – less than a week before the January 5, 2021 upload deadline (extended by five days later). The changes were enough to keep the show going for many, but the victims included the panel I was scheduled to present, hosted by Emily Lanza and Anne M. Young. In addition to canceling the session, they tendered their resignation as co-chairs of the Committee on Intellectual Property.

The importance of fair dealing cannot be overstated in the context of an organization focused on advocating for the visual arts while serving as a professional association for artists and art historians. While often insufficiently enforced, the fair use provisions of US copyright law allow the reproduction of copyrighted material without permission for any purpose that includes education as well as criticism and justice. comments.

In a major undertaking, Suzanne Preston Blier, who served as CAA president in 2016-18, relied on fair dealing for her 2019 book Les Demoiselles de Picasso: the original origins of a modern masterpiece, with support from Duke University Press. Yale University Press has incorporated explicit references to fair dealing in its image guidelines for scholarly art and architecture monographs. Sadly, such confidence is far from universal, as I am well aware, having recently obtained the image permissions for a forthcoming book on the intersections between copyright and artistic authorship which expresses strong support for fair use. Citing the ways in which a fair use code for documentary filmmakers made it easier to abandon copyright for vital historical footage, law professor Brian Frye pushed academic presses to take a similar stance, with risks mitigated by mutual insurance. CAA’s overbreadth of copyright against its members risks negating the impact of its own advocacy in this area.

Under the current leadership of Meme Omogbai and Elizabeth Schlatter (Executive Director / CEO and President respectively), the CAA has prioritized a number of important initiatives around diversity, inclusiveness and climate change, in the context of an organization seriously threatened by the pandemic. Yet Omogbai’s references to the ongoing “digital transformation” of the CAA in the October and November public conversations leave many unanswered questions about plans to shift the focus of the annual meeting to a flattering issue. – online form all year round.

CAA’s in-person conference has always relied on fair dealing and did not require speakers to waive their rights to present. But digital transmission complicates matters due to the potential for wider dissemination. Given the number of CAA members who have been forced to suddenly switch to distance education, with the challenges that come with it, modeling best practices is even more crucial. Putting the burden on presenters, rather than taking a principled stance on fair dealing, sends exactly the wrong message.

Daisy Youngblood is a portrait sculptor whose themes include accepting her own mortality.


The project required 269,000 square feet of silvery blue polypropylene fabric, 32,300 square feet of red rope, and the combined efforts of 1,200 workers.


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