21 Apr 2006

Surrealism on the Web

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Yesterday was the natal anniversary of renowned Spanish (and Catalan) artist Joan Miró, born April 20, 1893 in Barcelona, and Google (in what I would consider a gracious tribute) modified its logo into an homage to Miró.

Google had, in the past, similiarly saluted Salvador Dali, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and such occasions as Valentine’s Day.

Google’s gesture might possibly have some very modest economic impact, enhancing the value of that artist’s work through such a widely-viewed public acknowledgement of his fame and artistic stature, but it obviously did not make Google one plug nickel. Rather than accepting this one-day tribute, however, in the spirit in which it was offered, some grasping Miró heir, who had stumbled upon the Miró-ified logo, notified the Artists Rights Society, a group representing some 40,000 artists (and their estates). The pettyfoggers and beancounters at the ARS leapt into action, demanding that Google remove the logo, which incorporated some elements from the artist’s (copyrighted) images:

It’s a distortion of the original works and in that respect it violates the moral rights of the artist,” said Theodore Feder, president of Artists Rights Society. “There are underlying copyrights to the works of Miró, and they are putting it up without having the rights.”

So, if an Internet company, like Google, wishes to pay homage (for one day) to an historic figure in the world of Art, it is not enough that Google donates its time, creative work, and publishing space, it should also donate the time of its executives and attorneys to enter into correspondence, negotiations, the drafting of legal agreements, and possibly pay a fee for the privilege of saying: “Happy Birthday, Joan Miró?”

Preposterous. This kind of dog-in-the-manger punctilio over non-economic use of cultural references is crass, absurd, and culturally impoverishing.

John Paczkowski is a brilliant reporter on Technology, but I think he is completely wrong on this one.


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