Blow-Up Over Artist’s Blow-Up of Obama Stipple Drawing

ObamaArtDavid Kravets writes in Wired’s Threat Level:

Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

But Wall Street Journal illustrator Noli Novak says Spanish artist Jose Maria Cano engaged in outright plagiarism in producing a large painting that meticulously duplicates Novak’s stipple portrait of President Barack Obama, including the surrounding text that ran on the front page of the Journal last year.

Jose Maria Cano’s giant hand-painted copy of Noli Novak’s Obama drawing “He copied it dot by dot,” Novak said.

Cano, who could not be reached for comment, has produced an entire series of paintings copied from the Journal’s signature stipple portraiture — all of them several times larger than the newspaper clippings from which they’re derived.

In a Tuesday blog post accusing Cano of misappropriation, Novak wrote that the attorneys for the Journal — which owns the copyright to her original Obama drawing — are looking into the matter.

“I’m just venting the fact that my art is being used by somebody else,” Novak said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

But it’s far from clear that Cano is engaging in copyright infringement. When it comes to the art world, infringement is in the eye of the beholder. Cano’s painting arguably transforms Novak’s drawing, and gives it a brand new meaning — providing Cano with a strong fair-use claim.

“There’s this idea of repurposing and recontextualizing,” said Jonathan Band, a renowned copyright attorney who helped craft the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. “Here it is being repurposed for artistic purposes as opposed to news purposes, presumably for political commentary as well. Any art critic would tell you that.”

More on Wired

, , , , ,