Artists' Rights and Copyrights

May 13, 1988

Report Outline
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Technological innovations are outpacing the copyright system that protects works of art and other forms of intellectual property. Can a system created in the 18th century cope with computer programs, electronic databases and telecommunications networks? Does current copyright law need to be changed, or is a whole new system needed instead?

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Most artists feel a connection with their work as profound and permanent as that felt by parents toward their children. So when painter William A. Smith walked into Maryland House, a state-owned rest stop on Interstate 95, the sight that met his eyes was painful indeed. A large mural depicting scenes from Maryland history, which Smith had spent a year painting in the 1960s, had been thoroughly reworked by someone else, without his knowledge or consent, “I damn near had a stroke when I saw it, because it had been so damaged and mutilated,” Smith recalls. “To have these things added to my own painting with my own name on it sent me into an outrage. It was so contrary to my own standards and sense of what should be there.”

Since he did not own the mural. Smith had no legal recourse to undo the damage he thought had been done. But he quickly became part of a movement of artists from a variety of fields who are pushing for new types of protection for their works.

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