from the public-domain-to-the-rescue dept
Last fall we wrote about how Chinese officials were looking to remove the “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture by artist Jens Galschiøt that commemorates China’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The sculpture was erected at the University of Hong Kong in 1997, and now that China has been wiping out every last bit of freedom in Hong Kong, the statue has been targeted as well. In our post last fall, we noted that (1) Galschiøt was threatening legal action if the statue is damaged, and (2) activists were making 3D scans of the sculpture so that it can be replicated.
Of course, while Galschiøt can (without much leverage) threaten legal action against China for removing the statue, some realized that the unfortunate state of copyright law today means he might also threaten legal action against those making replicas and copies from those 3D images. Thankfully, Galschiøt himself recognizes how problematic that is, and after receiving a bunch of requests has signed official paperwork relinquishing his copyright on the Pillar of Shame, thus putting it into the public domain:
To DR News, Jens Galschiøt says that he has had so many inquiries that he finally had to make a signed declaration in which he relinquished the right to the production of the sculpture and in which it is stated that any profits should be given to the democracy movement.
“Normally, artists will not give their art commercially free, but I have done so because the art must come out. And the sculpture is a reminder of the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the democracy movement, and human rights,” Jens Galschiøt adds.
Galschiøt does not appear to be your typical copyleft activist, and certainly notes his concerns about doing this, but seems to say that, when considering the alternatives, this makes the most sense:
“I could probably spin a fair deal of gold on this if I wanted to. But I’m not particularly interested in money,” Jens Galschiøt says.
He admits that he has taken a risk by revoking his copyright protection on the sculpture and big corporations or private companies could potentially abuse that.
“Yes. I’ve laid down with the devil, but that’s how it is when you are suddenly involved in big politics. It can not be avoided and that’s fine. I exploit them and they exploit me. It’s a mutual “spanking”. But I actually do not feel this sculpture can be abused, because it is a symbol of keeping the memory of the massacre and Hong Kong alive,” Jens Galschiøt says and adds:
“The worst thing that could happen was if nothing happened and that no one cares about the “Pillar of Shame”.
The article separately notes that he is still seeking to get the sculpture (safely) back from Hong Kong, where it remains in danger of destruction.
In some ways, it seems absolutely ridiculous that people should need for the artist to “relinquish” his copyrights in a scenario like this, but it is the unfortunate nature of copyright law today. Given that, it’s great to see the artist make such a decision, and recognize that the statement he is making is more likely to benefit not just himself but the larger world and society in the long run.
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