Written by Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić //

Probably, each of you had a friend who bought the same clothes as you, who fell in love with the same girls/guys as you and listened to exactly your favorite band. And I assume that annoyed you tremendously (although someone might have found it flattering). And you probably stopped hanging out with that person or just kept silent. Because – you were ashamed to verbalize what was happening.

Photograph from the Art Box portal archive

It seems that thanks to the internet, especially on social media, as a companion to the visual-narrative extravaganza of extroversion, the mania of copying is experiencing its golden age. People go for other people’s ideas like they go to a supermarket. The difference is that in that hashtag space, everything is – free. The choice is really vast. In the past, maybe people copied clothes, repeated others’ quotes as their own, and today artistic works and projects are copied, photos are taken without permission, and who knows what else.

The more it is copied, multiplied, and shared, the more the trace is lost. And no one cares about it. Everything is uncritically publicly affirmed, mutually liked, and shared. And publicly pointing out a copy of the original on social media usually provokes mockery. Because, as many agree with Banksy (and many do not), „copyright is for losers“.

Replica of Banksy’s famous work referring to the Mona Lisa. Photographed at The Mystery of Banksy – A Genius Mind exhibition in Gothenburg. Photo from the Art Box portal archive

Why would someone choose to be a copy?

Out of ignorance, lack of ideas, arrogance, with the desire to achieve instant success? Is the mania of copying a way of life because one cannot or does not want to be different? Should one oppose it or is it better not to react? In life and in art?

Copy-paste and copyright in art

The question of imitation and copying, copyright, and the content of the concept of originality in contemporary art evoke different attitudes and debates among artists, critics, ordinary people, and legal experts.

There are countries where copyright laws are respected, and original works of art are protected from unauthorized copying and reproduction. Of course, there are countries like ours where such laws either do not exist or are very rarely respected. Under such laws, disrespect for copyright can be the subject of a lawsuit. But the question is how to determine whether the work has come too close to the original.

Is the word of lawyers, authors themselves, curators, and literary critics decisive? We witness various interpretations. While sometimes an obvious imitation is interpreted as being part of the tradition, in other cases, an author is unjustly discredited with a remark that they resemble someone else.

Photograph of Warhol’s work referring to Munch’s The Scream. Photographed at the Andy Warhol – After Munch exhibition at the Norwegian museum KODE in Bergen. Photo from the Art Box portal archive

Many artists have used copying as a means of learning. Other people’s works, in certain cases, can be used without violating copyright. Quoting, which is an homage, criticism, or travesty, is popular among many authors. Strategies of appropriation and quoting, transformation, and reinterpretation are legitimate ways of artistic expression. However, there is a fundamental difference between being inspired and referring to someone or something and – imitating and concealing the reference.

Replica of Banksy’s work featuring Kate Moss, referring to Warhol’s Marilyn. Photographed at The Mystery of Banksy – A Genius Mind exhibition in Gothenburg. Photo from the Art Box portal archive

When copying and imitating are used with respect for copyright and creative dialogue of artistic practices, it can be authentic art. The problem lies in the individual, actually collective, ethics of who is capable and willing to argue and devote themselves to interpreting and valorizing recent artistic practice in the abundance of fake news, profiles, identities, and posts that we have today.

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