Intellectual property and copyright – are we going too far?

In the past few weeks, I’ve run into several situations that made me think about copyright and privacy issues, and their relationship to marketing and audience development.

The first one was a square-off between a colleague who is a costume designer and her marketing director.  The designer was adamant about not having her designs in marketing materials, or actors appearing in costume for press events.  Her rationale: the designs are copyrighted and she didn’t want them out there in cyberspace for others to steal.  And, she said, viewing the costumes and sets is a privilege that should be reserved for the people who buy a ticket.  The marketing director, of course, thought that the costumes were a wonderful selling point because they were so beautiful, and was mystified that the designer didn’t want to get them in front of potential audiences as an incentive to attend.

The second incident happened last week at Disney Hall in Los Angeles.  After we found our seats, my friends and I got out our cameras and started to take pictures of each other.  We were quickly approached by an usher with the admonishment that no pictures were allowed inside the theater.  This after having received information at a conference presentation not 24 hours earlier from the incomparable Doug McClennan that Carnegie Hall has copyrighted the inside of its hall to prevent unauthorized photos.  The roomful of arts management educators laughed at this silliness.

The protection of intellectual property has run right smack up against our social media age.  People have a natural desire to share information on social media, and this has been proven to be an effective way to bring audiences into the process, not just the product, of art.  Since we see pictures of movie sets, TV shows behind the scenes, and clips of Broadway shows in the media all the time, I’m sure that many potential audiences are confused about where we draw the line.  Since many not-for-profit arts organizations don’t have the resources to police the internet, create and disburse their own high quality materials, we just end up not sharing much of anything.  I have to think that these policies may strike the general public as elitist…or at the worst, gives them another excuse to ignore us.

So why would we restrict photos and recordings of our performances, artwork and venues?  There are certainly some excellent reasons:

  1. We want to prevent unauthorized use and use that conflicts with our standards or brand image
  2. We want to avoid distracting the performers during a performance or damaging artwork
  3. We are often presenting material that is copyrighted by others and we don’t have complete control over the material

Still, there are also some good reasons for being a bit more open.  Bill Ivey, in his book Arts Inc., makes an excellent case for the fact that current copyright law favors corporations, not individual artists, and is set up to control the flow of money, not art.  The movie studios don’t take down private clips from YouTube because they are afraid of quality, they don’t want people to access their material without paying for it.

We could also make a case that we don’t want people to access our art without paying for it (why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?) but I think in the case of the nonprofit arts, we cut off our noses to spite our faces if we do so.  We’re too easy to ignore at this point.  What are your thoughts?


About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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3 Responses to Intellectual property and copyright – are we going too far?

  1. Friends, I need to make a comment about the story I told of the costume designer who objected to having her costumes used in marketing materials. This story was actually a composite, based on several conversations I have had during the past couple of years and which I believed represented a trend. But because I identified the designer as female and called her a colleague, the story seemed to point to one person in particular, which was not my intent. I realize this is both inconsiderate and sloppy journalism, and I apologize.

  2. Pam says:

    As a volunteer usher at a well-known concert hall, we are also told to remind patrons that pictures are not allowed inside the main hall. In fact, it is a city ordinance violation to take pictures inside this venue. It isn’t so much that people are taking photos of each other, but that we can’t police every photo to ensure that people are not taking photos of the copyrighted scenery from the shows. I watched one man sketch the scenery in a notebook during intermission one night and reminded him that the scenery was copyrighted. He told me he understood, but he didn’t want to create his own set for his group’s upcoming performance of the same show. If a performer or group is OK with photos (and some are), photos are allowed. We had a dance competition a month or so ago, and they were very strict because, in the past, parents had videoed other contestants and used their choreography in other competitions.

    • I agree, Pam, it is easier to simply disapprove all uses than to try to determine the intent of the photographer. I’ve also known directors who (in simpler times) bragged about the fact that their community theater production had sets “just like Broadway.”. It’s a definite issue, I just think it deserves more discussion so that we are sure it’s helping the right people.

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