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Bitter Origami Lawsuit: Artists Claim Painter Took Their Designs Without Credit

2012_06_origamifight.jpg
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From Lang's website: His crease patterns on left, Morris's paintings on the right

In the world of art, does copyright for origami patterns matter? A group of renowned origami artists are suing a painter, accusing her of copyright infringement by adapting their design for her works. But the painter, Sarah Morris, claims using found images is an accepted practice, "Whatever you think of, say, Warhol, Lichtenberg, Rauchenberg, imagine you lost all of that work. Imagine that wasn’t there in the 20th century. That’s what would happen, you know?"

The origami artists like Robert Lang (whose website offers examples of the alleged copyright infringement, such as above) have created crease patterns to fold origami into fanciful shapes. KPCC describes them: "Picture a square grid full of crisscrossing lines and overlapping shapes. A crease pattern looks like a graph in an algebra textbook or abstract painting." And that's what inspired Sarah Morris to take crease patterns from Lang—and Manuel Sirgo Alvarez, Noboru Miyajima, Nicola Bandoni, Toshikazu Kawasaki, and Jason Ku—and paint them—here's a PDF of the patterns and paintings.

Morris argues that it's fair use: "Now of course a painting is inherently, phenomenologically not a piece of paper. You cannot fold a painting. So it’s almost like setting up the viewer with an impossible task." However, Lang, who published a book of his patterns, says his friends recognized the designs as his, "The copyright law says artists get to decide how their work is used. And that is not happening here." Also, he points out that he and the other artists first asked Morris to acknowledge their copyright back in 2009.

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The lawsuit against Morris (PDF) was re-filed late last year. One of the most famous "artists" who "reappropriate" others' works is Richard Prince, who basically photographs other people's photographs and sells them for premium. In 2011, a California judge ruled that Prince had infringed upon the copyright of one photographer.