Presentatie Kobe Matthys (Agentschap) - Symposium Curating new media art - 2005 (Engels)28/07/2008
Curating new media art
Kobe Matthys (Agency), 2005
Concering a court case around the museum as a creation, and therefore protected by legal propertyrights: example of the Cinémathèque Française, and text below as a reaction on a text by Raqs Media Collective
Various initiatives, like the Navdanya seed bank, the Gutenberg Project, open source software, etc., are attempts to resist the expanding regime of intellectual property rights.
Intellectual property rights deal with copyright and related rights; geographical indications; industrial designs; integrated circuit layout-designs; patents; trademarks; and undisclosed or confidential information. Since the signature of the Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPS) agreement, a part of the WTO GATT agreement, in 1994, about 147 countries around the world agreed to implement the same intellectual property rights as default.
Examples of recent inclusions of intellectual property rights are the patenting of gene-manipulated living organisms, indigenous knowledges and sofware, the registration of three-dimensional forms, melodies, smells, and colors as trademarks and the copyrighting of databases, choreography, and architecture. In the context of this book, we would like to highlight one particular example: the copyrighting of exhibitions and collections.
During the last century, Marcel Duchamp claimed that the act of exhibiting or collecting an object, was enough to turn that object into an artwork by exhibited a readymade urinal as a work of art. Marcel Broodthaers installed his collection of eagles and about eagles, that were marked "this is not an art object", itself as a work of art. Such artworks posed problems for the copyright regulations and had legal consequences.
For about a decade now, the makers of exhibitions and museum collections have succeeded in obtaining legal protection for their work authorized under copyright law. In current jurisprudence (Henri Langois vs.
Cinémathèque française), judges have decided that exhibitions and museum collections may reflect the personality of their makers. From a legal point of view, exhibitions and museum collections are considered intangible realizations of the mind. So just like any other creative oeuvre, they fall under the same regime of intellectual property rights.
"Musée du Cinéma" is a part of the Cinématheque Française. The Museum of film covers in 19 rooms the development of film from the first "pantinoscope" to recent films. Every room has a theme. Room 1 before cinema, room 2 beginning of photography, room 3 Emile Reynaud, room 4 from photography to chrono-photography, room 5 Etienne Jules Marey, room 5 Thomas Edison, room 7 and 8 the brothers Lumiere and the beginning of cinema, room 9 George Melies, room 10 Pathé et le cinema forain, room 11 French burlesque, room 12 art film Gaumont, room 13 art film in Europe, room 14 and 15 American cinema and Scadinavian school, room 16 German expressionism, room 17 French avantgarde during the 20s, room 18 the last silent films and room 19 spoken film. Room 19 has 17 sections from A to Q. The Cinématheque Française was founded by Henri Langlois, George Franju and Jean Mitry, in 1936. The museum progressed from the private collection of Henri Langlois including posters, film sets, film scripts and costumes. Cinématheque Française preserved, restored and showed many films that were at risk of disintegration. Besides films, it also preserved other items linked to cinema such as cameras, projection machines, costumes and vintage theater programs. The Cinématheque Française is financed by the French state.
Article 2 of the Berne Convention on the protection of literary and artistic works states that:"The expression "literary and artistic works" shall include every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression, such as books, pamphlets and other writings; lectures, addresses, sermons and other works of the same nature; dramatic or dramatico-musical works; choreographic works and entertainments in dumb show; musical compositions with or without words; cinematographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to cinematography; works of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving and lithography; photographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to photography; works of applied art; illustrations, maps, plans, sketches and three-dimensional works relative to geography, topography, architecture or science." and part 5 of that same article states that "Collections of literary or artistic works such as encyclopedias and anthologies which, by reason of the selection and arrangement of their contents, constitute intellectual creations shall be protected as such, without prejudice to the copyright in each of the works forming part of such collections."
Article 111-2 of the law in France on intellectual property states that" a work is created independent of any distribution for the public, there is the only fact of creation even unfinished of the conception of the author"
There was an attempt to move the Cinématheque Française from the Palais de Chaillot towards the Palais de Tokyo. That would imply that the film museum would have to change, to which the inheritors of Langlois opposed on the basis of copyright. Jean-Lois et Hugues Langois only gave the permission to install the film museum at Palais de Tokyo under the condition that the spirit of the exhibition would not be altered.
During the court case of Henri Langlois foundation against Cinémathèque française at Cour d'Appel in Paris on the 2nd of October 1997 the judges state that the exhibition Muséee du cinema has only as its author Henri Langlois. They argued that there is "a unique ensemble that summarizes the oeuvre of Henri Langlois". Along the court Henri Langlois did not only select the objects and projections, he also made the presentation along an original order and scenography. They considered it as a personal creation and as an intellectual work. The original character of the creation is that there is no other museum that presents the history of cinema in this way.
This decision has constructed a new official category of intellectual property. The exhibition as a work of art. From a legal point of view, exhibitions and museum collections are considered as intangible realizations of the mind. So as any other creative 'oeuvre' they fall under the regime of intellectual property rights.
This decision has a series of consequences. The exhibition maker has changed from being an administrator to an author. The exhibition of Langlois exists out of works like posters, decors, photographies, etc... and also things like cameras, costumes, etc... That means that the status of things can change into works in the sense that they show a personal history of Henri Langlois.
Also the selection and order was not in function for a book or a film. The exhibition takes place in a location. The court state that the presentation in that location itself was a work.
But one of the most remarkable consequences of this jurisprudence is that the court judged that the original creation of a museum asks intellectual and sensitive qualities of its visitors. The court states that the work of an exhibition depends on the view of the visitors. But inside the copyright law the public has no relation to the creative act.
This is just a formal question. Were they going to move the exhibition to the Palais du Tokyo permanently?
Yes, it opened last month in a new building that was the former American Culture Institute. This institute went bankrupt. So, they used the building and they reconstructed the museum in quite a different setup. All of this, however, happened with the permission of the inheritors.
So it was the Palais de Tokyo that proposed to the museum to adapt it?
No, this museum was part of Cinematique Francaise which is a big setup where you can watch films and which also has an archive on film. And this museum is only a part of that Cinematique Francais. Cinematique Francais wanted to move to Palais de Tokyo, but the inheritors of Henri Langlois who were responsible for the museum part posed against the move.
Dirk De Wit
So we are referring to the museum as something that is fixed, in the possibility to change, and even owned by the people who conceived it.
It was not so fixed. It started in 1926, and he built it gradually. It was a kind of a lifetime work which he adapted all the time.
Dirk De Wit
But now, after his death, it is fixed?
It is not completely fixed because the inheritors still gave the permission to install the film museum with the condition that the set-up and design of the exhibition could not be altered, whatever that might be.
Dirk De Wit
This story you have told us can also be projected to contemporary museums. Do you see other dangers, challenges or examples in which contemporary exhibitions are in opposition to this culture of use, reuse and openness?
I liked this case because it is the first time that in an official way an exhibition gets considered as a creation. If in comparison you look back at art history, you have for example Duchamp who presents a readymade object in a museum. When doing this he is attributing something to that object. Only 50 years later we have ??? who makes his own museum. These creations posed problems to copyright, but not for long. And this is very recent, it is from 1997. Answering Dirk's question, I have to disappoint you because I am not making the laws. I am trying to say that it is a reality today that the exhibition-maker is an author. This means that he can counter his intellectual property as a way of getting his labour paid. It is a very economical decision.
How much of the material in the exhibition is unique?
It is actually a mixture of things. They have artworks which are films, photographs, drawings, paintings, props, film sets, pieces of art deco, costumes, the Metropolis robot, posters... There must be unique parts in it.
I am asking this question because it poses a really serious problem if one organization is saying that this is the only way in which this material can be presented. Moreover, they fix it in one format that cannot be altered or challenged in any way. I think this is a very serious mistake on behalf of the museum.
But the work Henry does is independent from the work that is within the exhibition.
The personal collection of Henry which is used in the museum is part of it, and the inheritors have a right to say something on it. If they do not agree with the way it is staged, they can redraw the whole property of the family.
It was his personal collection only in the beginning. That was how it started. But quite fast it became the property of the French state and also everything that was built later. The construction of the museum is part of the Cinematique Française. It's both a moral and an author right. But in this case we are dealing mostly with moral rights. They want to protect the museum as such, in the way it has been installed by him. And they do not want it being presented in another way. It goes beyond merely the collection of the things.
Copyright laws in France are different than in Belgium. If you make something and you sell it, you still have moral laws on them. So, this means that the descendants of this person might take to court this particular situation and tell that they want to do it this particular way. In the United States on the other hand if you sell something, even if you are the author, someone can choose to burn your work. In France you still have the right to have ideas on the way in which your work is shown and where...
I want to add that exhibitions were not part of copyright before this case.
But if it is considered a creation, why shouldn't it be part of copyright?
We learn from museum-studies that one should be able to read an exhibition as if it were a text. However, it is never really said that one should be able to watch an exhibition or any other form of visual cultural production. This is because the work of the curator is considered to be writing word history. However, when you actually bring curators and art historians together, as we did, we discovered that the art historians were less willing to accept contemporary exhibitions or new media artworks as themselves in the form of a historical document. It is as if the exhibition has to be judged through time in order to become a valuable piece of art history.
Could one piece of the collection be borrowed? Could it be shown?
That you would have to ask the inheritors. I think, like I mentioned before, that the work of Langlois is quite independent from the objects that are in it. Museums lend work to other museums, but with this work it would be very difficult because it would disrupt it.
If you look at history we see that Marcel Duchamp actually curated some surrealist shows back in the forties in New York. But the distinguishing aspect that comes in here is that suddenly you have to look at an exhibition as a lasting interpretation. Of course curating an exhibition is always an interpretation of the material, but suddenly you have to keep the exhibition for ever and ever in that same format. It is good to think about curation as a kind of statement that relates to the art work.
Author: Kobe Matthys (Agency)
Type: paper and transcription of Q&A during symposium 'Curating new media art'
Date: 16 october 2005
Place: Nadine Brussels
Organisation: Digitaal Platform (IAK/IBK) in collaboration with argos festival, with the support of Nadine
Summary: Concering a court case around the museum as a creation, and therefore protected by legal propertyrights: example of the Cinémathèque Française, and text below as a reaction on a text by Raqs Media Collective