Is taking a photograph of a piece of artwork, which was funded by the public, infringing on the artist’s copyright of the piece? That’s what is up for debate, prompting an unusual fundraiser tonight at Sunset Tavern.
A decade ago, Mike Hipple took a photograph of a woman dancing along some “dance steps” that were embedded in the sidewalk along Capitol Hill. The photo was made available at a “stock photography agency,” presumably for sale. Hipple said he received a letter from the artist, Jack Mackie, who created the “Dance Steps on Broadway,” asking that the agency remove the photo. According to Hipple, the agency complied, but he said that wasn’t the last he heard from Mackie. Hipple writes on his blog:
Despite my agency’s removal, Mr. Mackie is now suing me for copyright infringement and claiming the full measure of statutory damages, possibly $60,000 or more. All for a photograph taken on a public sidewalk, showing a woman interacting with a piece of public art, paid for by public funds. And it only depicts a small portion of the artwork at that.
Mackie spoke with Seattlest earlier this year and says Hipple’s claims of fair use are wrong. This is not fair use, Mackie claims. “Yes, anyone can make a photograph of my work. What they can not do is use my work for their profit without any contact with me…. (Hipple) is playing pretty loose with the facts here and in many other claims.” Mackie says that he’s had to fight dozens of infringement cases, including one that went to the United States Supreme Court. “This is not an inadvertent snapshot of a shoe on a sidewalk. This is a staged photograph. It’s about three feet from the copyright notice,” Mackie says.
Meanwhile, Hipple is fundraising to pay for his legal fees. Tonight, the Sunset Tavern is hosting “The Mike Hipple Legal Defense Fund Benefit” at 8 p.m. More on the fundraiser on this Facebook page.
(Photo from the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.)