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Long Before DMCA and IPTC: A 16th c © Warning

Long Before DMCA and IPTC: A 16th c © Warning

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Would more powerful language discourage right-clicking on your images?

By Jack Howard

May 6, 2009

Long before DMCA, IPTC, or C&Ds to bloggers and takedown notices to their ISPs, is one of, if not, the earliest examples of copyright warnings from the 16th Century, reports Quirk Books "Secret Lives of Great Artists" (© 2008 $17.95 ISBN: 978-1-59474-257-6).

The engravings of Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) were frequently copied, and he set about to protect his intellectual property. Page 36 of the book tells the story:

Stop, Thief!

Like any successful businessman, Durer worried about forgeries–a real threat because, at the time, it was not illegal to copy another artist's work. He first attempted to protect his art by adding his monogram–the now famous D nestled between the "legs" of a larger A–to all his prints and paintings, in essence creating the first trademark. Unfortunately, the monogram was just as easy to copy, so although it helped promote his reputation, it did little to safeguard his work. In fact, Durer was forced to take legal action against Venetian artist Marcantonio Raimondi, who copied his works, marked them with the "AD" monogram, and published them without permission.

Durer's next step was to obtain the very first copyright in a special grant from Emperor Maximilian. He proclaimed his new right in the 1511 engraving Life of the Virgin:

Hold! You crafty ones, strangers to work, and pilferers of other men's brains. Think not rashly to lay your thievish hands upon my works. Beware! Know you not that I have a grant from the most glorious Emperor Maximilian, that not one throughout the imperial dominion shall be allowed to print or sell fictitious imitations of these engravings? Listen! And bear in mind that if you do so, through spite or through covetousness, not only will your goods be confiscated, but your bodies also placed in mortal danger.

Would today's photographers would have better luck cutting down on unauthorized usages if they adapted Durer's stern language in their © fields, or scripted a pop-up warning upon right-click-steal attempts?

The Secret Lives of Great Artists covers the quirky lives of many well-known artists throughout the centuries, and any shooter who has taken an art history class in high school or college will be familiar with many of the subjects covered. But as far as photographers and photographic art featured in the pages, it's slim: Alfred Stieglitz is referenced in Georgia O'Keefe's story, and Andy Warhol gets his own chapter.

If you've heard of other creative attempts by photographers and artists to safeguard their work–let us know!


 

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