This paper considers a hypothetical ethical dilemma faced by an art director commissioning artwork to accompany a magazine article. It considers the artist's use of appropriated images from a variety of sources, including copyrighted works, and the legal and ethical issues raised by such use. In an age in which digital photographic images can be easily acquired, manipulated, and rendered almost unrecognizable from their original state, the questions raised by this imagined case study are complicated. They require considerable contemplation. As copyright law continues to deal with increasingly nuanced issues of ownership, authorship, and intellectual property rights, the issues raised by cases such as this demand serious examination.
In his seminal book, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, William Mitchell writes:
The photographic falsifier holds up not a mirror to the world but a looking glass through which the observing subject is slyly invited to step, like Alice, into a place where things are different--where facts seem indistinguishable from falsehoods and fictions and where immanent paradox continually threatens to undermine established certainties (190).
In this case study, the Wonderland in question is a collage created by an artist using a wide variety of appropriated photographic images and a skilled hand with a Photoshop program. The New York Times magazine art director who commissioned the piece rightly inquires about the original images and questions the possibility of copyright conflicts. The artist contends that no problems exist, offering a number of specific arguments.
The first argument is that almost every image used has been changed so substantially as to be unrecognizable. The room in the photograph, though taken from an undoubtedly copyrighted book by photographer Wegman, has been stripped, flipped, re-colored, and refurbished. The photograph of the curtains (...