Meera Nair

copyright and religion; a contentious mixture

In Posts on June 14, 2015 at 6:20 am

Discussions of copyright and religion are fraught with risk for the same reason; that it is extremely difficult to find middle ground.

Two weeks ago, an article in the Huffington Post raised what, on the surface, looks like a clear-cut demonstration of violation of intellectual property rights. But, as is often the case with these rights, careful reading brings to light a more complex matter.

The article, published on 6 June 2016, concerns the work of Vancouver photographer, Dina Goldstein. Although the Huffington Post indicates that Goldstein is seeking damages from a foreign newspaper for its use of her work, the article does not identify which body of law is relevant to Goldstein’s claim. Goldstein is entitled to be offended by the criticism levied at her; however, it is open to debate as to whether any laws were broken at all.

Images from Goldstein’s collection Fallen Princesses were used to support an argument from the Irish Catholic newspaper Alive!, of the need for families to raise children with hope. Specifically, the hope that arises from the Christian faith: “The sure hope of heaven gives us a joy here and now that even suffering cannot undermine. The fairy tales have it right.” The Huffington Post quotes Goldstein as saying:

My photograph … was deliberately manipulated into forming a criticism about parents who do not promote religion within the household. This sentiment is seething with the classic Catholic guilt trip I reject … In fact, this argument is completely opposed to my own way of raising a family, without religion.

In the same article, Goldstein acknowledges that her “socially critical work is ‘meant to attract discourse.'” However, the photographer objected “to the newspaper’s cover displaying neither a credit to her, nor an indication there’s a relevant story inside.”

DINA-GOLDSTEIN-IRISH-NEWSPAPERCloser examination of both the Alive! cover and the accompanying article do not easily support these remarks. It is true that the Alive! cover does not make mention of Goldstein by name, but there is a reference to an article in the lower right hand corner: “Being a child of parents with no faith is tough, see page 7.”

On page seven, the article begins with: “Photographer Dina Goldstein … .” The article deals with Goldstein’s work in depth, detailing highlights of the collection and Goldstein’s philosophy about the collection. In terms of crediting a creator, or invoking a creator’s work to a specific cause, these are matters of moral rights which serve to protect the personal connection between art and artist. As most readers know, the scope of protection varies. However, among observing countries, the right of attribution (acknowledging the creator) and integrity (treating the work with respect) are common. Ireland observes both (so too does Canada).

But the immediate question is whether moral rights prescribe a specific placement of attribution? Irish law is silent as to how attribution should be carried out. Known as the paternity right in their Copyright and Related Rights Act, Chapter 7 – Section 107 states: “ … the author shall have the right to be identified as the author and that right shall also apply in relation to an adaptation of the work.” Thus it is plausible that crediting Goldstein through the article would serve as observant of moral rights under Irish law.

[As an aside, the Copyright Act of Canada is slightly more detailed in its language of moral rights: “The author of a work has …  the right to the integrity of the work and, …  where reasonable in the circumstances, to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous.” But the caveat of “where reasonable in the circumstances” also allows for the possibility that the attribution might not be placed according to the creator’s wishes.]

On the matter of the integrity of the work, Irish law is quite intriguing. Chapter 7 – Section 108 states: “… the author of the work shall have the right to object to any distortion, mutilation, or other modification of, or derogatory action in relation to, the work which would prejudice his or her reputation …” (emphasis mine). The two photographs of Goldstein’s, portrayed by Alive!, were not distorted, mutilated or modified. The representation is faithful to Goldstein’s original images. But we should consider the possibility that featuring Goldstein’s work in the newspaper, is a “derogatory action … which would prejudice his or her reputation.”

The Alive! article quotes Goldstein as saying: “I am a fierce realist so I wanted the princesses to be in real life situations with problems of their own.” The article further quotes Goldstein as “raging against the happily-ever-after motif” spoon-fed to the young. Neither quotation is attributed to any particular press interview or article, but Goldstein’s website contains an extensive collection of material so it is plausible that these quotations are accurate. Alive! uses Goldstein’s work and her remarks as a background to advance their own argument; that believing in “happily ever after” is a fundamental belief, and a worthwhile one, in the Christian tradition.

At this stage, a claim based upon moral rights infringement looks less robust; rather than a violation of moral rights, the use of the images melds well with fair dealing. In Ireland, like Canada, criticism and review are protected purposes if the creator receives sufficient acknowledgement (see Chapter 6 – Section 51). It would not be possible to convey the force of Goldstein’s work, without showing some of the work. Where Alive! may have erred, is to speculate that Goldstein’s work is deliberately an attack on Christianity and a style of parenting. From the article:

But is [Goldstein] raging against the Christian message of hope in the fairy stories or against the culture of despair which has infiltrated both society and her own life? She seems to think we should stop telling children stories with happy endings. That kids need to realize that real life stories don’t end that way.

Alive! continues in this vein, about people who have lost sight of God, emphasizing that “hope and happiness, not despair, are the realistic attitude to life.”

Goldstein has not been shy about voicing her views on religion; but she has also articulated that her work is art, not a parenting manual. In 2009, when Fallen Princesses was unveiled, Cheryl Rossi, writing for Vancouver Courier, states:

Her Fallen Princesses photos aren’t meant for kids, Goldstein says, and she’s not shielding her daughter, now four, from Disney. “I don’t want to ruin her bubble,” she said. “She’ll learn that life is complicated and tough eventually.”

In a more recent interview Goldstein states that she would not deprive her young daughters of the enjoyment of Disney productions or merchandise, emphasizing that children are too young to understand the concepts behind Goldstein’s imagery. Goldstein is unequivocal: “These images are made for adults.”

So is there a legitimate complaint here, and if so, what is it? Was the photograph unfairly used in a manner that is derogatory to Goldstein’s reputation? Have the musings of Alive! cast aspersions to Goldstein’s character? Or, was the condemnation of Goldstein’s work merely criticism? Criticism that necessarily required explanation and therefore invocation of Goldstein’s work?

And if there is a complaint, is there an avenue of redress for Goldstein? I am unfamiliar with the sturdiness of Ireland’s regimes of fair dealing, moral rights and defamation; if an Irish reader would like to comment, please do.

On a different note, Goldstein’s work is phenomenal. In an interview with Fanny Kiefer, Goldstein remarks: “… [the] characters are symbols, to convey a scenario.” Fallen Princesses is dramatic and touches a chord by the recasting of familiar characters among the all-too-real feelings of desperation that pervade life. The rude-awakening that marriage can be, the trauma of cancer, and other realities, are conveyed masterfully.

With my bent for maintaining copyright as a set of limited rights (as it has been for 305 years), the best part of Goldstein’s work is this: no reprisals from the Disney Corporation. When questioned by Kiefer as to whether Goldstein had sought permission from Disney, and did Disney call upon publication of the pictures, the answer to both questions was No.

Nor should there have been any reason for Disney involvement. But the persona of Disney and its ironclad grip upon its characters is legendary to the point of discouraging putative artists and even well-heeled lawyers from using Disney materials. Goldstein’s story is a happily-ever-after of an entirely different nature.

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