Art Forgery, Copyright and the Royal Society of Arts - RSA

Art Forgery, Copyright and the Royal Society of Arts

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  • Arts and society

In 1857, the Old Bailey heard a curious criminal case: an art dealer – a Mr Thomas Closs – stood in the dock accused of dealing in a forgery of the painting Heath Scene by the landscape painter John Linnell.

However, as the judges hearing the case asked, was this really ‘forgery’ in the eyes of the law? Forgery must be of some ‘document’ or ‘writing’ and the Court held that this did not include an artist’s signature in the corner of a picture. This ruling was part of the backdrop to an important campaign led by the Royal Society of Arts. In 1858, the RSA set up an Artistic Copyright Committee comprising painters, engravers, photographers, art collectors and art administrators, and its efforts in lobbying Parliament, resulted in the first copyright legislation protecting painting, drawing and photographs: the Fine Arts Copyright Act 1862. 

In a presentation at RSA House on 24th June - Copyright and Art Forgery: The Picture that Challenged the Law - Dr Elena Cooper, will present the full story of the case against Thomas Closs, and show her audience a nineteenth century forgery of the painting at the centre of the case. Dr Cooper, an academic at the University of Glasgow, is also the author of a forthcoming book  - Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image, CUP, 2017 - that uncovers the details of the RSA campaign and the story of the making of modern artistic copyright more generally. 

Dr Cooper’s talk forms part of a one-day Festival showcasing the latest research on copyright produced by CREATe, the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy. More information about the Festival can be found [on the CREATe website] Other topics, to be covered include the future of copyright and its role in the creative economy, studies of the business models of independents, the future of news, fashion IP and copyright issues facing the museums sector. 

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