Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Economic Times : Indian art lacks a clear picture on IP rights



KOLKATA: There’s an abiding discussion among art circles regarding intellectual property rights (IPR) in the Indian art scene. The IPR issue is fairly well defined when it comes to books or music. But, in the case of artworks, the matter remains a little hazy.

“As long as an artist is alive, he or she can probably claim IPR to his works. In fact, the artist also has reproduction rights. This applies mostly in case of sculptures. But, when a work sees a transfer of hands, the buyer often assumes that the IPR has passed on to him. And, that the existing owner also enjoys reproduction rights. In the sense, the buyer can produce prints of paintings. However, in such situations the buyers would naturally require to officially possess a letter of authorisation from the artist,” an art market source told ET.

Most museums, for instance, pick up the rights of reproducing prints of paintings from artists who are living and from the families of artists who have passed away. “But, the fact that a museum has reproduction rights does not necessarily imply that it has also picked up the IPR.

A living artist can have the right to hand over reproduction rights to other sources too. For instance, if a painting is published in a book, it has to be okayed by the artist and not the collector. Again, this is not followed always. The buyer or collector is often known to assume the right to allow production of prints from a painting or publication of a piece in a book,” the source said.

Interestingly, an artist also seems to be limited when it comes to number of reproductions of a work that can be churned out. A sculptor, for example, can carve out up to nine copies of a bronze sculpture which can be called as originals after they are numbered and sometimes signed by the artist.

In any case, the whole issue of copyright or IPR arises when an artwork switches hands or an artist is no longer alive. In such circumstances, the current owner or the inheritors stake claim to the IPR. The period of expiry of the IPR is also quite vague in the case of Indian art. “Normally, the IPR of artworks is guided by Geneva Convention.

But, this is mostly followed in the European Union countries where the artist or his or her family is paid a royalty every time an artwork is transferred from one owner to the other. But, this does not seem to happen in other countries. If the royalty practice comes into force in India it may trigger quite a few complications.

“Theoretically, the Geneva Convention could also be applied in India, but instances of it being followed are hard to find. There are also questions whether galleries boast of IPR to works even when an artist is on contract with them. After all, they are only in temporary possession of the works till t

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