Rijksmuseum: Use Our Art, Please!

February 21, 2014

Westlaw JournalsWith this column, I usually write about some organization or institution fending off others who’d happily help themselves to its intellectual property-protected assets.

Today, it’s a different story, and the organization I’m writing about that’s doing the opposite isn’t some edgy Silicon Valley startup or a shady offshore enterprise.  It’s a centuries-old European Museum.

To commemorate the one-year anniversary of Rijskstudio, its website where users can interact with art, the Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is sponsoring a contest in which artists are invited to create something using one of the venerable museum’s artworks as inspiration. And what artworks! The Rijksmuseum is one of the jewels of Europe’s art world. It has masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer among its one-million-plus artwork collection.

So far, entries to the contest have included a bra-and-panty set with a motif lifted from a 17th century cabinet, a handbag bearing the same print as that worn by a Javanese court official in an 18th century portrait and a minimalist graphic design work modeled after painting of a toucan. (If you’re interested, learn more about the contest here),

Now, I don’t know anything about intellectual property laws in the European Union. Correction – I do know one thing; they’re not the same as those here in the U.S. I mention that because maybe institutions in Europe aren’t as “back off” as they tend to be here. But even if the Rijksmuseum is a little more open than most (it is European, after all), I think it’s still neat that it’s opening its collection to artists around the world and actively inviting them to use it as inspiration for their own creations. The discussion of whether intellectual property protections help or hinder artistic creation is a veritable carousel of good arguments on both sides. This contest seems to make a case for a more open and expansive view of using someone else’s art to spark your own imagination.