Appropriation Appropriated: Ethical, Artistic, and Legal Debates in Canada

AuthorLaura J Murray & Kirsty Robertson
Appropriation Appropriated: Ethical,
Artistic, and Legal Debates in Canada
   &  
 : Although Appropriation Art is oen used to illustrate how
freedom of speech can be constrained by expansionist copyright, such a
framing oversimplies the complex and oen contested ways visual culture
is used, borrowed, and stolen. Using Canadian examples to unsettle the cen-
trality of US-centred copyright debates, the authors examine Appropriation
Art from three interlinked perspectives: rst, as a historical phenomenon
within the Euro-American, and specically the Canadian, art world; second,
as a term that came to prominence during the Canadian copyright debates
of 2006, and became entangled with a history of artist activism as practiced
by Canadian Artists’ Representation (CARFAC); and third, as a heretofore
unexamined tension between appropriation championed as an act of re-
sistance to the US entertainment industry and government, and appropri-
ation vilied a decade earlier in Canada during controversies about cultural
appropriation and “appropriation of voice” from Indigenous and racialized
people. Ultimately, appropriation, whether as an art practice or an object
of potential copyright regulation, is not the same in Canada as it is in the US,
or for that matter, in theory. It has a history, which must be recognized if the
interests of the various parties involved are to be accommodated or at least
adequately described.
: Même si l’art de l’appropriation est fréquemment utilisé pour
illustrer la façon dont la liberté d’expression peut être limitée par le droit
d’auteur expansionniste, cette vision simplie démesurément les façons
Appropriation Appropriated 369
complexes et souvent contestées par lesquelles la culture visuelle est uti-
lisée, empruntée et volée.À l’aide d’exemples canadiens, pour perturber
la trop grande concentration sur les débats de droit d’auteur propres aux
États-Unis, les auteurs examinent l’art de l’appropriation sous trois angles
interconnectés: premièrement, sous l’angle d’un phénomène historique du
monde de l’art euro-américain, et plus spécialement canadien; deuxième-
ment, en tant que terme ayant occupé une place importante lors des débats
sur le droit d’auteur canadien en 2006, et qui est devenu indissociable de
l’histoire de l’activisme artistique tel que pratiqué par le Front des artistes
canadiens (CARFAC); troisièmement, en tant que tension jamais exami-
née jusqu’ici — entre l’appropriation, défendue comme acte de résistance
contre l’industrie du divertissement et le gouvernement américains, et l’ap-
propriation vilipendée il y a une décennie au Canada lors des controverses
à propos de l’appropriation culturelle et « l’appropriation de la voix » des
autochtones et autres personnes « racialisées ». Finalement, l’appropriation
n’est pas, en tant que pratique artistique ou objet de réglementation poten-
tielle du droit d’auteur, la même au Canada qu’aux États-Unis, ni d’ailleurs
sur le plan théorique. Son histoire doit être reconnue pour que les intérêts
des diérentes parties impliquées soient pris en considération, ou tout au
moins exprimés adéquatement.
It may seem ironic that the United States, the main engine behind strong-
er intellectual property protections in the international arena, should also
be the site of the most conspicuous critiques of copyright. And yet the two
phenomena are connected: with their strong individual rights tradition (ex-
tending past security of the person to the famous “pursuit of happiness”),
Americans have a potent discourse with which to engage intellectual
property from within and without. In addition to this unifying ideology, a
common platform for debate as it were, the United States also has ample
economic motivation, and institutional and media resources, to develop
and express opposing positions on intellectual property. Thus, the United
States produces both the most forceful corporate and popular assertions of
intellectual property in terms of the right to property, as well as the most
proliferating critiques of intellectual property in terms of the right to free-
dom of expression. As the US entertainment industry exes its lobbying
and legal muscles to defend or expand its rights, a remix aesthetic also

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