14 Apr 2024

Artwork copyright in the age of social media and AI 

From Culture 101, 12:45 pm on 14 April 2024


Van Gogh getting captured at The Met in New York 2023

Van Gogh getting captured at The Met in New York 2023 Photo: Mark Amery

Today we are all publishers, sharing fresh content online to please our followers. So when does taking a photograph of an interesting artwork constitute a breach of copyright? And what about the harvesting of those images by AI? 

Recent Aotearoa New Zealand news stories on breaches of copyright have included artwork stolen by an online paint-by-numbers store registered in Iceland, a Whāngarei artist’s work appearing on a duvet set, Ashburton’s tallest building sporting an imitation of a work by street artist Flox and numerous other stories of street art and tāonga used to sell calendars and other merchandise. 

We live in challenging and complicated copyright times for visual artists. And that copyright is an important step for anyone in the creative industries in being able to make money off their work.


Screenshot of catalogue.mycreativerights.co.nz/ Photo: supplied

Not-for-profit organisation Copyright Licensing NZ have recently launched a project to help artists in all disciplines - be they writers or sculptors. MyCreativeRights not only provides information on rights but has a catalogue feature to allow the saving of contracts and the recording of works. A legal service allows artists to access free and heavily subsidised legal advice (funded by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage for a limited time).

Yolunda Hickman

Yolunda Hickman Photo: supplied

Sculptor Dr Yolunda Hickman has had her copyright infringed, with others profiting from work that has involved her own financial investment.

Ironically, Hickman’s own widely-exhibited work tests the potential of images and communication systems by sourcing and referencing copyrighted materials through painting and sculpture. She has exhibited widely across Aotearoa. 

The former head of the postgraduate arts programme at Whitecliffe Arts School Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland recently joined the National Art School, Gadigal Sydney, as the Head of Postgraduate Studies. 

Hickman is the Visual Arts Advisor to the Copyright Licensing New Zealand board. She’s been involved to help develop strategies supporting advocacy and policy for artists’ rights and education. She has also played a role of adviser on the Resale Right for Visual Artists Bill, which comes into law at the end of this year.

Another good resource on rights for street artists is Bad Exposure - a website established by artist Xoë Hall and IP lawyer Thomas Huthwaite, after Hall suffered one too many infringements. 

Yolunda Hickman spoke to Culture 101’s Mark Amery.