Modern artists who are still alive can command high prices for their works. Even if they sell them they will still retain the copyright to their picture.
But what does it really mean to hold the copyright to a piece of art? Basically, it means that the artist can control whether any reproductions are made, and whether images of the artwork are used in advertising campaigns, for example.
It’s the same for other artists, such as authors and musicians. A person who has bought a piece of art just owns it as a physical good – they haven’t got the right to control where and how reproductions are made, or how images of it are used. The copyright in a piece of art can be very valuable to an artist when other people pay for the right to use it.
However, copyright is subject to exceptions for certain uses that are considered to be socially valuable or economically insignificant. Hence a transformation of a work for a different purpose (such as an amusing parody) may not infringe the copyright, depending on the local copyright law.
Look at the examples given in this website where works of art have “inspired” advertising campaigns.
Think about why some paintings command such a high price. Put the following statements in order to reflect your ideas about why some paintings cost so much.
Points for discussion
There are three other questions we would like you to think about:
Why would someone pay a huge sum for a piece of art when they could get a digital print for a fraction of the cost?
What about when a piece of art is re-sold, or changes hands – do you think the artists themselves should get a share of the profits? The artist has created the painting after all.
What about if the artist only becomes famous after their death – where do you think the money should go?
Choose one of the artists mentioned in this section and research their work and their reputation.
What have they created, and what of their work is most well-known?
What influence has their work had on people, and on art, over the years? Were their paintings valued highly during their lifetime?
Do you think they are underrated, overrated or valued correctly by modern society?