"Standing Figure" Didn't Just Walk Away

Sadly, yet another renowned work of art is missing -- presumed to be stolen, perhaps by people who just want to melt it down for scrap.

The work is a tall bronze sculpture titled "Standing Figure."  It was created in 1950 by abstract sculptor Henry Moore, and it was on display in a public sculpture garden in Scotland.  Sometime this past week, it disappeared.  According to the London Evening Standard, police are asking for anyone to come forward who might have noticed someone behaving suspiciously in that area.  (You know...like a couple of guys carrying out a big, metal sculpture under their arms.)

Even sadder, this isn't the first time outdoor sculptures have been pilfered.  In at least one case, it's presumed that a large metal sculpture was stolen by people who then melted it down to sell its metal for a fraction of what the art was worth.

Maybe They Should Hire Max Bialystock

Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like there's something vaguely reminiscent about the financial affairs of the Gothic musical, Rebecca -- that is, something that reminds you of Mel Brook's classic, The Producers?

An article in the New York Times reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission decided not to pursue action against the producers of Rebecca, despite some, shall we say, creative accounting.  You see, in attempting to finance what they hope will be the Broadway opening of the show, the producers hired a Long Island stockbroker who promised to find them investors.  Well, he found some.  The only problem was that some of them were just phantom investors.  Purely fictional beings made up, perhaps, in the hope of luring other real investors, with real money, to jump aboard the project.

Well, the stockbroker was arrested and pleaded guilty to charges of fraud.  He's awaiting sentencing.

Meanwhile, Rebecca still needs another $5 million for its Broadway opening.  Max Bialystock, where are you?

Is Holmes Free for the Taking?

Are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, characters created in the 19th century, in the public domain?  It's elementary, says a Holmes scholar, that they are.  Not so, counters the estate of the characters' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle.  And that has them all in court fighting over what I'll call "The Case of the Questionable Copyright."

As those who follow this blog know, literary characters typically aren't copyrightable unless they're especially unique in ways that make them clearly recognizable simply by description.  Holmes is often said to fall into that category (and, perhaps, to some degree his trusted companion, Dr. Watson, who serves as Holmes right-hand-man).  The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle has profitted over the years from those iconic creations of the author.

However, contemporary fiction authors (one of whom is a Holmes scholar) are challenging the estate's right to continue extracting money out of the use of those characters because, they claim, Holmes and Watson have passed into the public domain, and a lawsuit was filed in Illinois seeking a declaratory judgment.  A website called "Free Sherlock!" explains their contention.

Basically, as I understand it, the estate claims that, although Holmes and Watson were 19th century creations, the latest publishings of A.C. Doyle's Holmsian series were created in the mid to late 1920s, which means those stories are still currently protected by copyright.  In the estate's mind, that means the characters featured in those stories are still copyright protected as well.

Of course, this is a matter for the court to decide.  However, from my own perspective, I'm having difficulty buying into the estate's claim.  If a copyright on a character renews each time a new story is created featuring that character, in essence, that copyright could be extended indefinitely simply by having someone representing the estate write a new story about the character each time the copyright expiration was getting close.  To me, that just doesn't comport with copyright law.  Copyrights are meant to have a definitive term and not to last conceivably forever.

Cyberlocker Gets Locked Out of Safe Harbor

A U.S. District Court in Florida ruled against the company known as Hotfile, the judge deciding that the so-called "cyberlocker" was guilty of massive copyright infringement because it allowed -- and, apparently encouraged -- users to upload and share copyright infringing material.

Five motion picture companies filed suit against Hotfile in 2011, alleging the company was vicariously liable for the infringements carried on by people using its system.  Hotfile claimed it was protected by the "safe harbor" provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which permits a company an opportunity to take down infringing material and, in so doing, avoid liability.  However, that argument didn't carry the day in court.

It didn't help Hotfile's case that it paid incentives to users who uploaded the most popular files for sharing.  One can probably imagine which files would be among the most popular: the latest Hollywood blockbuster or home movies of Uncle Max's birthday party?

Detroit Institute of Arts Trying to Add a Little Legal Protection to Collection

There's been an ongoing tempest over whether the financially troubled city of Detroit could sell off portions of the collection in the Detroit Institute of Arts in order to help pay off the city's massive debts.  You can imagine the reaction from the Detroit area's art lovers.

This past June, Michigan?s attorney general issued a formal opinion in which he said that, even though the collection is owned by the city, it's held in charitable trust for the people of Michigan and, therefore, can't be sold off to pay the city's debts.  Good news for the Michigan art loving community.

However, the Institute has amended its gift acceptance policy so as to insert an extra layer of legal protection against future forced sales.  According to a statement made by the museum's director, under the new policy, if a work from the collection is sold, the proceeds can be used only to buy more art.