Grave robbing David Bowie and other copyright issues

I am writing this three days before the one year anniversary of David Bowie's death. The man touched many with his music, acting, art, and mere presence. He also had a knack for shining the spotlight on other artists, be it pub rockers like Mott The Hoople or soul singers like Luther Vandross. The man was as generous as he was visionary predicting and leading the way in everything from music to fashion, to the internet to intellectual property. A lot of articles have focused on Bowie Bonds and the early use of internet for bowienet, which became, as examples of his soothsaying ability.
This New York Times interview from 2002. To put into context, this was two years before he had heart attack. which lead to a decade long break from and touring and recording. What bowie said at the dawn of the new millennium is as prescient as it is depressing.

His deal with Sony is a short-term one while he gets his label started and watches the Internet's effect on careers. ''I don't even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don't think it's going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way,'' he said. ''The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it's not going to happen. I'm fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.''

''Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,'' he added. ''So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen.''

Some have tried to spin this in to a pro dismantling of copyright. I find this laughable. Bowie had a slew of failed singles for years by the time Space Oddity was released. Considered a novelty song, he then had to put in a few more years before Ziggy Stardust really propelled his fame. He had to sue his manager after making a bad deal, leaving him in the red. And then, when he wrested control of his work back, he had to sue him again 15 years later for for violating intellectual property rights. Does this sound like the type of person to not give a toss about his rights?

One has to wonder what Bowie would think of his image being pirated now. In this case, the work of Gavin Evans whose 1995 photoshoot led to some charing and oh-so-Bowie-esque pictures like the one above, being used without permission to sell stuff. Actually one doesn't need to wonder; if Bowie was as passionate about other artists and protecting his own I.P, not to mention his image, it's safe to assume he would not have been happy about it.

Grant Scott, founder of United Nations Of Photography and friend of Gavin Evans has a lengthy post on the matter right here. It is worth reading all of it but I'll include this excerpt as it perfectly illustrates the blasé attitude Big Tech has towards copyright.

Photographers have become used to their images being used illegally over the years — photographs of pop and rock stars have been regularly appropriated by bootleggers of all kinds — but they way in which companies are using Facebook pages and profiles to promote their image theft directly to fans of the artists creates a situation in which the fans are unknowingly supporting both the theft and the company disregarding their copyright responsibilities.

I recently tried to upload a short film clip of my youngest daughter dancing to some music directly to Facebook. I was not allowed to by Facebook as the music was copyrighted, which I of course have no issue with. This proves that abuse of copyright could be addressed by the platform and that they are making some attempt to fulfill their responsibilities. But posting on a separate platform and then linking to a Facebook avoids the software block I faced, which is exactly what companies such as that illustrated above are doing.
I have commented under the companies multiple sales posts on Facebook explaining their image theft with no response — their unlawful use of the Brian Duffy portrait of Bowie above as their profile image is yet another example of their ignorance of copyright and definitely not ‘aewsome’.

I have reported the posts to Facebook, with no response. The lack of response is no surprise so I felt compelled to raise the issues with you to see what you think. Maybe you have seen the David Bowie posts or similar for other pop/rock icons and feel that you would like to comment. Maybe we could start a movement!

Adland has been trying to start this "movement," for more than a decade now, discussing photography as well as musicians, the collateral damage that occurs from it as well as how the sudden devaluing of art and infringement of it has a direct and very negative impact on culture at large and advertising in general. Not to forget the impact is has on journalism. If someone else wants to start screaming into the wind, go for it. Our voice is growing ever more hoarse and there is very little in the way of change. Copyright did indeed get a bashing. Of this, Bowie was right.

If only people had listened to him in 2002.

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Dawn lim 's picture

What about a visual artist rendition and the Bowie photograph copyright? Iis it illegal to use an iconic photograph image of David Bowie and create something new but definitely recognise it's h,im?

Dabitch's picture

I feel like using the programmer's favourite answer here: it depends.....

Famous lawsuits to read up on:

Jeff Koons vs Art Rogers for "puppies"

See also Shepard Fairey and The A.P. regarding Obama "Hope" poster. They settled. Fairey made some other mistakes along the way like falsifying evidence.

In Sweden: Markus Andersson and photographer Jonas Lemberg