CONTEXT: The original article (URL below) takes Quebec singer-songwriter Pierre Lapointe to task for objecting publicly to the misappropriation of his song by the Quebec Liberal Party for partisan purposes without his consent. He, like many others here, does not support that party and so found it particularly upsetting to be involuntarily co-opted.
However, Ms. Foscolos’s editorial missed the real point: namely, that any political or commercial re-use of an artistic work is covered by copyright law, and Mr. Lapointe’s rights were clearly violated by the party (which governed the province for nine years until 2012 and should certainly have known better). Various Republicans in the U.S. have similarly offended Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and others; Ms. Foscolos objects to those artists’ complaints, too…apparently on the grounds that lefty artists have no right to object when this is done to them by decent conservative types.

Madame Toula Foscolos
author of the article
« Pierre Lapointe : une indignation injustifiée »
(http://www.messagerverdun.com/Opinion/C%26rsquoest-Mon-Point-de-Vue-/2013-03-25/article-3206891/Pierre-Lapointe%3A-Une-indignation-injustifiee/1) in the Messager Verdun of March 25 2013 (www.messagerverdun.com)

Dear Ms. Foscolos,

Forgive me but I really must correct you on a matter which is clearly settled by the law on copyright, which you seem not to know or understand, like most people in political circles.

You said “Artists have the right to dissociate themselves […] but they cannot decide which political or moral behaviours of their audience will or won`t receive their blessing” (my translation; the original was « Les artistes ont le droit de se dissocier […] mais il ne peuvent décider quels comportements politiques ou moraux de leurs auditeurs peuvent recevoir ou non leur bénédiction. ») Up to that point you are correct.

However, it is not judgment of his audience but the exercise of his right to say yes or no to any given use of his work that is in question here. Mr. Lapointe has the legal right to be indignant. Just as in any other case where the author of a text or recording has been shocked to learn that his (or her) art has been co-opted for political or commercial purposes without permission.

Therefore, when you say Mr. Lapointe was wrong to complain, you reveal that you misunderstand the law. Even if the company that sells recordings of a song acquires certain rights to use it, the moral rights of the artist recognized in Canadian and European law (see the Berne Convention) give Mr. Lapointe the right to denounce a partisan use of the work without his permission.

I admit I was less astonished by your ignorance of the law than by the indignant tone of your comments. That an artist dares ask that his legal rights be respected seems outrageous to you? and especially an artist (falsely) accused by an ex-minister of the political party in question of having “encouraged violence” and by yourself of “having his letter already written in his head and just awaiting a pretext.” (« sa lettre déja écrite dans la tête et n’attendait qu’un prétexte ».)

The opinion of those who respect the rights of artists no more than those of ordinary citizens, as guaranteed in the Charters, does not (yet?) constitute the law, neither in Quebec nor in Canada.

As for your question, “When will artists recognize that a work has a life of its own and, once it is created, they lose absolute control of it?” (« Quand les artistes reconnaîtront-ils qu’une oeuvre a sa propre vie et que lorsqu’elle est créée, ils en perdent le contrôle absolu? ») my response is simple: If one day the law strips us of our rights to free expression and to profit from our talents and our labour, then you will be able to disregard them. But that is not yet the case, and even you must obey the law.

No, dear lady, you have misunderstood “the very essence of public art” (« l’essence même de l’art public »). Buying a copy of the work on a CD in no way buys the right to use its content any old way without permission. Buying a painting to show it in public is in no way permission to make a travesty of it. See the case of Michael Snow vs. Eaton Centre, where the latter subverted the intention of the work and the court upheld Mr. Snow’s right to object to such misuse of his art. The norm, when one wishes to exploit a work in a new context, is to ask permission for it and (ideally) to pay something for the privilege. And it is up to the owner of the copyright to agree…or not.

In passing, it may be worth mentioning that if “the majority of artists are often further to the left” (« la plupart des artistes sont souvent davantage de gauche ») that may be because the ultraconservative politicians who proclaim their absolute faith in the law show so little respect for the rights of ordinary citizens, which are nonetheless protected under the law.

Advertisements