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Street art has a history of appropriation art...but someone's not happy!


Milton Springsteen, a street artist with a long association with Oi YOU!, has had an artwork pulled form a charity auction. has run an insightful article on the matter under the headline of...

Hairy Maclary author's publishers get charity artwork pulled over perceived copyright infringement

A street art piece featuring children's character Hairy Maclary has been pulled from a charity Trade Me auction after a complaint from author Lynley Dodd's publishers. 

The work, by a prominent New Zealand street artist who uses the pseudonym Milton Springsteen, shows a dog that looks like Dodd's Hairy Maclary carrying what appears to be Ronald McDonald's detached arm. . 

The auction was selling several works from artists who displayed at the recent Paradox Tauranga Street Art Festival.

All proceeds were for people affected by April's Edgecumbe flooding. It was run by the Tauranga City Council (TCC) and Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.

Dodd is represented by Penguin Random House, who approached the sellers to have the auction removed.

Publishing director Debra Millar said the company contacted those running the auction because they thought it was an infringement of Dodd's copyright. 

Penguin Random House offered a $200 cash donation towards the fundraiser. 

"We obviously didn't want to leave the appeal out of pocket because of this unfortunate event."

Millar said she thought it was probably a "simple oversight" on the part of the artist. She was sure the artist would appreciate the need to accept artistic copyright.  

TCC strategic and city events manager Gareth Wallis said they agreed to remove the artwork from Trade Me.

"We respect the rights of the copyright holder and have therefore agreed to remove the art work from the auction."

Trade Me spokesman Logan Mudge said they removed the listing, "with a little reluctance", after both the complainant and the seller asked for the auction to be removed. 

Paradox was run by street art festival company Oi YOU!. Director George Shaw said he agreed with the council's decision to remove the auction and respected Dodd's wishes.

Shaw said Springsteen's work was a piece of appropriation art, which was a common type of art, and was a respectful piece.

Appropriation art uses pre-existing images with little transformation applied to them, but recontextualises the borrowed piece to create new work. 

Overseas examples include the work of Andy Warhol and Banksy. In New Zealand artists such as Dick Frizzell employ the technique.

Appropriation art has a murky place within New Zealand copyright law.

Canterbury University dean of law Ursula Cheer said it seemed arguable there was no breach of copyright, but instead the creation of a new, original work. 

"If they [artists] copy the whole or substance of someone else's work, and do not add enough that is new in order to move beyond the style and detail of the original, then they will be in breach."

The law of copyright was a "rather uneasy compromise" between the need to encourage innovation and the need to allow originators to make money from their creations, Cheer said. 

Victoria University of Wellington Intellectual Property Law Professor Graeme Austin said New Zealand copyright law had no defence for appropriation art.

He said it made it difficult to defend appropriation artworks in court. 

Austin said appropriation artists in the United States had been protected by the fair use defence, but it was considered case by case.

The full article, here, has a few examples of appropriation art by the likes of Dick Frizzell and Banksy - this highlights that all this feels a bit churlish and precious to us at Oi YOU!, particularly as it was for a charity auction.  

It could also be said that curtailing and artist's voice in this way is a potential a very slippery slope handing even more authority to the corporate world. 

George Shaw