Origami and Art: a discussion of transformation and copyright

In a chilling lawsuit, origamist Robert Lang is suing artist Sarah Morris for copyright infringement for making paintings based on his origami designs… Originally posted by Joy Garnett of NEWSgrist, this lawsuit really brings to light the confusion and difficulty in establishing what is derivative and what is transformative. Is the art of origami the design and diagram of the flat piece of paper – or is it the end product – the 3-D crane or cup or lotus flower that results after painstakingly folding along the lines. Similarly, if a Sarah Morris bases her paintings on the design of the flat origami paper, and, as noted by Ms. Garnett “used them comically as compositional devices for flat paintings, the purpose of which is to comment ironically on the nature of flatness in painting,” are her paintings merely a derivative of a 5 x 5in piece of paper? In the art world I think it would be difficult to argue that what Sarah Morris is doing in her paintings isn’t truly transformational. But the art world isn’t where this lawsuit will be decided – it will be decided in court. And here is where I think the big chill comes in: Basic disagreements about the fundamental nature of art, disagreements that have been ongoing for thousands of years, are legalistically flattened in these type of copyright lawsuits. Will copyright be given the power to define what art is? Gee… I really hope it doesn’t get the chance.

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