Trending: Call for Papers Volume 4 | Issue 4: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]



The Law of Copyright is capable of facilitating creativity as well as hindering it. Art has progressed over the years and the past few decades witnessed the expression of art in several forms. The market for contemporary art is thriving and this raises a very important question: Should the ambit of copyright law be extended or modified to protect newer forms of art work?  As  the  art  movement  across  the  world  is  undergoing  some  dynamic  changes,  it  becomes  necessary  to  study  the  art protection   laws   across   jurisdictions   to   hatch   a   regulatory   framework,   especially   for   contemporary   artworks   like appropriation  art  which  are  two  fields  of  expression  that  are  trickier  than  others.  This  article  aims  to  provide  a comprehensive  deep-dive  into  the  sufficiency  of  law  and  the  changes  that  need  to  be  made  to  both  secure  economic  and moral rights of the creator and incentivize new art, but also to not thwart away the existing regime to accommodate trivial ideas, drifted from expression


It is a  tradition  that  art practitioners  challenge  and explore the community’s moral, intellectual and social boundaries.  It  might  also  be  said  that  some  of  the most  conclusive  definitions  of  those  boundaries  are provided by the judiciary. Those limits are formulated from the bundle of rights and their co-relative duties. However, when the rights exercised by one individual conflicts with the rights exercised by another individual, it paves way for problems.  The  law  of copyright  strives  to  protect  the  artistic  creations  by offering  economic  incentives  to  the  creator  of  the artistic work. Affording     Copyright     protection encourages  a  diverse  array  of  artistic  and  creative work from various genres by providing the artists the property   rights   in   their   works[1].Ironically,   the Copyright  law sometimes  hinders  creativity  too.  The past    few    decades    have    seen    some    dynamic advancements  in  mediums  of  expression  that  have drastically  changed  the  creative  outputs  that  require protection.  This  raises  a  very  important  question: should  the  ambit  of  law  be  willing  to  completely modify  to  accommodate  newer  forms  of  expression that  require  protection?  Scholars  are  truly  divided  on this  point.  While  some  believe  that  any  progressive law  would  be  expected  to  metamorphosize  according to  the  needs  of  the  time  and  not  restrict  artistic expression to traditional norms, the other half believethat  the  characteristics  of  copyright  protection  cannot be  altered  because  doing  so,  increases  the  challenges two-fold. Contemporary art is constantly evolving at a faster pacewhen compared to the related legislations.  There are no qualitative tests to determine whether an art can be copyrighted or not. In most jurisdictions, a mere  requirement  of  originality  and  the  need  for  the work  to  be  an  expression  rather  than  an  idea  isthe only  qualification  mandated  by  the  copyright  Act.[2]Unfortunately,  the  Copyright  Act  of  India,  USA  and UKdo not do justice in providing protection for many post-modern    art    movements    in    spite    of    this comprehensive framework and flexible approach.

With Post-Modern Art

In simple terms,  we  can  state that the  post-modern art  is  a  movement  and  cannot  be  restricted  to  fit  into the    conventional    definition    of    art.    The    Post-modernism  movement  essentially  revolts  against  the customary   norms   of   ownership,   originality   and expression    that    are    integral    to    the    copyright protection.  The  post-modern  artists  lift  images  from already  existing  works  and  present  newer  ideas  and perspectives  on  politics,  consumerism,  society  and other  thought-processes  of  that  era.  The  post-modern artists  create  art  works  that  rebels  against  the  high-powered  lot  in  the  society  which  may  monopolize dominion over the way in which the very imaged that create  our  popular  culture  is  communicated  to  thesociety at large.In real world, the copyrighted works of  other  artists  are  appropriated  by  the  post-modern artists to critique and comment on the society and this makes    majority    of    the    post-modern    art    non-copyrightable. The ‘Blued Trees Symphony’ is an excellent example of  how  Contemporary  art  was used  as  an  instrument  to challenge capitalism. This was an initiative to challenge the limits of the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) that protects  only  the  rights  of  permanent  art  of  recognized art historical statute but not movable, transient or activist art.  This  movement  sought  protection  for  eco-art  as  a new  genre.  The  language  defining  legal  theories  of copyright  ignores  the  power  of  the  phrase droit  moral. Resultantly, this continental-scale work of interdisciplinary  art  was  copyrighted  in  the  year  2015, requiring  the  courts  to  recognize  an  emergent  overlap between  eminent  domain law,  copyright ownership  and new forms of art.[3]

Post-modern art has risen to the occasion, replacing the  modern  art  of  the  early  twentieth  century.  The concept  of  post-modernism  traces  its  origin  from  the use  of  “found  objects”.  These  found  objects  could either   be   natural   or   human-made   and   they   were minimally  modified  or  in  some  cases,  they  were  left entirely  untouched  by  the  artist.  These  works  were finally  offered  as  artworks.  In  the  paintings  of  artists like  AndyWarhol  and  Jasper  Johns,  we  can  observe the   use   of   institutional   symbols   and   commercial items.   Minimalist   sculptors   deployed   construction materials,  like  stone,  mud,  wood,  wire,  or  metal,  and exhibited     the     works     withminimal     or     zero modifications.Appropriation  art  is  one  such  art  form  in  the  post-modern  movement,  which  lifts  the  images  of  other artists  and  incorporates  them  into  already  existing artworks  to  criticize  on  the  society.  Similar  to  the appropriation artists,  conceptual  artists  also  challenge the    same    high-powered    lot    by    redefining    the conventional  notions  of  what  is  art  and  what  are socially    valuable    ideas.    The    conceptual    artists implement   this   by   creating   artworks   that   carry originality in idea, but not in expression.”Earthworks” artists install a sculptural matter in an outdoor  environment  or  relocate  the  already  existing materials  that  appear  in  a  natural  landscape  to  create artworks  in  nature. The  performance  artists  try  to blend  different  elements of  theatre  with  traditional forms of visual art to create a fusion of choreography, sculpture  and  theatre.  Mark  Kostabi and  Jeff  Koons are  New  York  based  artists  who  believe  that  the financial  value  of  an  artwork  is  determined  by  the number of aesthetic elements present on it. Ever since Duchamp’s  time,  the post-modern  artists,  rather  than advocating for the artwork itself, have insisted that the primary  stimulus  for  the  creation  is  the  idea  behind the artwork


The invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450 marked the genesis of the first copyright system. In 1474, the Venetian Law made initial efforts to protect inventions through patents. By the late 19th century, industrialization spurred by innovative manufacturing techniques prompted the formation of the international IP system. Recognizing and rewarding IP ownership stimulates innovation, fostering economic advancement.

All forms of intellectual property are aimed at receiving enhanced protection under the TRIPS Agreement. This agreement delineates provisions regarding international IP agreements and the application of general GATT principles. It also establishes guidelines for the utilization, enforcement, adherence, acquisition, and maintenance of IPRs.

Research Questions

This research paper addresses the following inquiries:

  1. Are contemporary arts safeguarded under The Copyright Act of 1957?
  2. Do contemporary arts pose challenges to existing Intellectual Property Laws?
  3. How can the originality of artistic works be determined?

Research Hypothesis

Contemporary art presents challenges to intellectual property laws, particularly those concerning copyright.

Research Methodology

The paper employs doctrinal research, characterized by a theoretical analysis of legal principles alongside an examination of legal theory formulation and application. Emphasis is placed on interpreting case law, legislation, and other legal documents.

These encompass any original creations of the human intellect, spanning arts, sciences, literature, technology, and other domains. IPRs confer legal privileges upon inventors or creators to safeguard their work for a designated period, granting exclusive rights for exploitation. Acknowledged as crucial to the modern economy, IP underscores the significance of recognizing the intellectual labor associated with innovation.

Contemporary Art

Characterized by continual redefinition and reinvention, contemporary art often draws inspiration from diverse sources, including preceding artworks, reflecting a fusion of imagination and creativity.

The Test of Originality and Contemporary Art

The  work  created  by  the  post-modern  artist  must always  fulfill  the  originality  requirement  even  if  it  is borrowed from the public domain and transformed by the  artist.  Originality  in  a  derivative  work  mandate that the author must contribute “something more than a  ‘merely  trivial’  variation,  something  recognizably ‘his  own.  No matter  how  poor  artistically  the  author’s addition  is,  all  that  is  required  is  that  the  work  of  the artist   must   be   his   own.In   simple   terms,   the derivative    work    must    pass    the    distinguishable variation test. Originality,  as  a  requisite  for  copyright  protection, has  been  interpreted  by  the  courts  in  two  ways.  In Bleistein v Donalds on   Lithographing   Co. The Supreme Court presented the concept of originality asa creative impulse that “always consists of something unique.    It    expresses    its    uniqueness    even    in handwriting,  and  a  very  modest  grade  of  art  has  in  it something   irreducible,   which   is   one   man’s   alone. Thus, under the Bleistein standard, originality subsists in  the  unique,  personal  contribution  of  the  author. However,  the  standard  enumerated  in Feist requires de  minimis proof  that  the  “work  was  independently created  by  the  author  and  that  the  “requisite  level  of creativity  is  extremely low”.The Feist standard emphasizes   creativity,   however   slight,   over   the unique.

Legal Protection of Artistic Works

History of Art Copyrights

The Engraving Act of 1734 marked the initial recognition of the economic value of artworks. Subsequently, moral rights, such as attribution rights, were acknowledged in the Berne Convention of 1886. However, defining artistic works has become increasingly challenging as the artistic landscape evolves.

Protection under The Copyright Act 1957

The Copyright Act of 1957 grants a spectrum of exclusive rights to copyright owners under Section 14. It safeguards original literary, artistic, musical, dramatic, cinematographic, and sound recording works. Originality denotes the absence of duplication from any other source. In India, copyright protection is governed by this Act, encompassing both economic and moral rights.

Economic Rights:

Copyright holders are bestowed with economic rights under Section 14 for original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, as well as cinematographic and sound recording works.

Moral Rights:

Section 57 of the Act delineates two fundamental moral rights: the right to attribution (paternity) and the right to integrity.


Numerous challenges arise when contemporary arts fall under the purview of IP regulations, yet only a select few are addressed below:

  1. Lack of Awareness: These ventures often commence with limited exposure and expertise amid the burgeoning number of individuals honing their skills and launching small enterprises. Consequently, they inadvertently infringe upon IP rights, leading to protracted and costly legal disputes with established corporate entities.
  2. Conflict Between the Objectives of Contemporary Art and IP Law: While the primary aim of IP law is to prevent further appropriation and recreation of protected works, contemporary art often thrives on reimagining existing pieces, challenging traditional notions of creativity. This dichotomy underscores the inherent tension between the principles of contemporary art and the tenets of IP law.
  3. Advancements in Technology: With the increasing digitization of the world, instances of IP infringement have surged. In such scenarios, the imperative for stringent IP regulations becomes paramount. Contemporary artists engaging in reinterpretations of artistic works must acknowledge and respect the rights of original creators.


Copyright, recognized as a valuable asset for artists, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding creative works. India, with its laws protecting intellectual property, including copyright, encompasses artistic creations within its ambit. Section 2(c) of the Copyright Act delineates artistic works.

Contemporary art, being classified as artistic production, falls under the purview of the Copyright Act of 1957 and is thus subject to the same regulations as other creative endeavors. However, the unique attributes of contemporary art pose challenges to copyright laws. Given that many contemporary art forms build upon earlier works, the delineation of an artist’s rights vis-à-vis the original work remains a central issue.The resolution to this quandary lies in recognizing that all artistic endeavors draw inspiration from pre-existing knowledge, concepts, or artworks. Hence, restricting the rights of contemporary artists or undermining the rights of original creators would contravene the fundamental purpose of IP laws.


While Section 13 of the Copyright Act of 1957 asserts copyright protection for original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, it does not explicitly define originality. Judicial interpretations play a crucial role in elucidating the requisite level of originality for copyright protection, which may vary across courts.

The “sweat of the brow” doctrine, a cornerstone of copyright law, asserts that copyright protection extends to verbatim reproductions. In India, this principle was affirmed in cases such as Macmillan and Co. vs. K & J Cooper and Burlington Home Shopping Pvt. Ltd. v. Rajnish Chibber & Anr.

The concept of “modicum of creativity” was endorsed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Eastern Book Co. vs. D.B. Modak (2008), emphasizing the requirement for a minimal level of creativity for copyright protection.


The existing copyright law in India distinguishes and protects works where ideas and expressions are separable, omitting consideration for works combining both elements. Conceptual art, including contemporary art, poses a challenge as it blurs this distinction. The idea-expression doctrine further complicates matters by restricting copyright protection to expressions rather than ideas.

The doctrine of merger applies in such cases, stipulating that if an idea and its expression are inseparable, copyright protection is not extended to the expression. This principle was upheld in cases like RG Anand v. Deluxe Films (1978), where the court ruled that despite similarities in ideas, distinct expressions precluded copyright infringement.

In essence, navigating the intersection of contemporary art and copyright law necessitates nuanced interpretations and considerations to uphold the rights of both creators and innovators within the evolving artistic landscape.


It  is  a  well-settled  principle  of  copyright  law  that protection can be granted to works only when they are expressed in some tangible form. This is referred to as the fixation requirement in copyright law. Simply put, the fixation requirement mandates that the work must be  exhibited  in  a  copy  which  makes  it  possible  for others  to  copy  and  perceive  it.  One  of  the  primary reasons  for  fixation  to  be  a  requirement  in  copyright law is to facilitate a distinction between the mere idea and    the    entitled    expression    of    a    work.    This requirement    appears    to    be    incompatible    with contemporary   works   that   are   either   composed   of impermanent  materials  or  are  heavily  improvised.57Common    law    countries    mandate    the    fixation requirement  whereas  the  civil  law  countries  do  not. The TRIPS  Agreement  does  not  specify  anything about  the  fixation  requirement.  Instead,  the  fixation requirement  is  incorporated  in  the  Berne  Convention which  grants  discretionary  power  to  its  signatories  to decide  whether  the  work  must  be  fixated  “in  some material  form”. A  work  is  considered  to  be  fixed  if and  only  if  the  work  has  been  reproduced,  perceived or  otherwise  communicated  for  a  period  exceeding that  transitory  duration. However,  this  rigid  fixation requirement  does  not  hold  good  for  contemporary  art creations  that  are  created  with  transient  materials  or that which are highly improvisatory.


Contemporary art stands out for its propensity to constantly redefine and reimagine itself.

Inevitably, to offer a fresh interpretation of existing works, this often involves drawing inspiration from earlier creations. Herein lies the crux of the issue. Where does the line blur between one artist’s entitlements and another’s? Virtually all artistic endeavors draw upon existing knowledge to some extent. Yet, dismissing the rights of the original artist whose work is being referenced is not a viable solution. Such a scenario would undermine the very essence of IP law.

The degree of borrowing would have to be looked at in order to determine sustainability. When an author who has taken inspiration from another artist creates a piece that is remarkably similar to the work that came before it, his rights should be curtailed. The issue with this solution is that it will necessitate significant borrowing, which is contrary to contemporary art’s enthusiasm for the idea of offering fresh interpretations of preexisting works.

Given the issues raised above, several gaps must be filled in order to introduce the IP culture to modern artists and encourage the use of the many forms of protection that IP rights offer. To include contemporary art in the definition of the art forms under IP rules, there must be a proper distribution of rights and a passage of the same artwork being copied from a different angle. A crucial component is educating people about the advantages of IP and cultivating a sense of respect for the IP-related materials.

We are aware that because IP is transnational in nature, thefts of it can also occur abroad, which frequently creates difficulties due to language, geography, and other factors when trying to resolve the problem. Therefore, policies and strategies that take a more holistic approach need to be implemented in order to address a variety of issues and obstacles while also providing contemporary artists with the assurance that IP laws are crucial for the preservation of their works.

Research Hypothesis Tested

The hypothesis contemporary art poses difficulties for intellectual property laws, particularly copyright laws is tested Positive through this research as it deals with originality of the work and it is difficult to determine the originality so it creates difficulty for copyright laws.


The lack of inclusion of contemporary art in IP laws causes problems for artists, which is a problem that must be solved with a thorough understanding of the various art forms and a decision-making process that prioritizes the interests of the parties involved rather than following strict rules or formulas. To accomplish all of these things, which are not simple, policies and frameworks must be developed and made available to contemporary artists so that their works of art, their use of imagination, and the degree of recognition that their work deserves are all protected by the IP laws that are in place.



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