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Christo says: don't photograph The Gates!

From an email by NYC activist Robert Lederman:
UPDATE: Corrected Chicago URL

Christo's publisher claims a vast new degree of copyright and trademark protection. They claim they will prosecute anyone who sells their own original photos of The Gates; who makes and sells a drawing of The Gates or who even uses the words, The Gates, without their permission....They also claim to have an agreement with the media that media sources may only use news photos of the gates for the period the installation is up. That after that the media will only be allowed to use "official" photos of The Gates.

This sounds exactly like what's happening in Chicago with the public art at Millennium Park.  Makes me want to get some photographers together to go to Central Park and start shooting! Any takers? [ email: carrie (at) ]

(Thanks to Andrea Hull for the tip)

Posted by carrie on 02/17/2005 | Permalink


Christo and Jeanne Claude encouraged the work crews (we were asked to do it off work time) to photograph the Gates. We were also told photos were for personal use only. They did not threaten legal action, and the spirit with which they spoke struck me more as one that sought some respect for their effort. I assume the only people really griping about this are frustrated that they can't profit themselves. How, then, are they "activists". If I make copies of Stay Free and sell them for my own benefit, would you mind? Found art and all.

And, FYI, this is not without precedent, even locally -- you cannot sell photos of Rockefeller Center. Tishman forbids any images for commerical use (we weren't allowed to use an image of a building a client was headquarted for their brochure).

Posted by: miss representation | Feb 18, 2005 11:38:01 AM

Come on -- "Uses the words 'The Gates' without their permission?" You have to know that's impossible. I tell my daughter to "meet me over by the gates" all the time.

I'd love to be sued by Christo. I'm dying to buy a saffron suit.

As for Rockefeller said it yourself... "commercial use." All the silliness about Cloud Gate (Da Bean) started when some bloggers reported "the public" was banned from taking pictures. They never were.

It's a licensing issue. It's not about banning Jo Blogger from snapping photos and putting them on flickr.

Carrie, I think your second link is flummoxed.

Posted by: Domoni | Feb 18, 2005 8:23:37 PM

What about derivative works? That's the problem with these blanket claims of copyright and ownership. If photographers take unique photos that incorporate the Gates...

for ex:

or particularly parodies:

... why shouldn't they be able to sell prints of their work? Christo doesn't OWN such photos; the very beauty of public art is that it belongs to the public--or at least it should.

Re: miss representation's argument: A print magazine does not equal public art, but your point is moot anyway because Stay Free! is free (for those in Brooklyn; otherwise you gotta help cover my costs). Regardless, I'd love to know how one makes money by bootlegging zines. Do tell!

Posted by: Carrie McLaren | Feb 19, 2005 6:01:13 PM

Carrie: you drew parellels between the Bean and the Gates, which are decidedly different projects. I don't know the legal structure of Millenium Park, and I don't agree with the CPO having the amount of authority they do, but it would seem their agreement with CVJ would be the final arbiter of such claims.

The differences are duration and funding, and if you don't see that as material, this is a foolish discussion. And your activist was flatly wrong on several points. If we could see something that validates his histronic claims, then let's talk. But it's lazy to reproduce it as is, when no one else has heard or seen the same.

You claim you are only covering costs. Isn't that what CVJ is claiming? Is your argument then only one of scale?

I find it highly unlikely that they will pursue individual cases, but their attempt is merited, because the possiblity of craven commerical promotion. If there is no copyright claimed over images, what stops Sunkist from using images in advertising (save the CPO claiming their own copyright over images of the park)? Or Cingular?

I don't think there aren't issues here, but the level of discourse in the quote above sounds like the guy in college who would spray paint the hallway in his dorm every week, and then complain to the student council that his creative expression was being repressed when the maintenance worker (who he would yell at while the work was being done) who was obliged by his job to repaint the very same hall did his job.

Posted by: Miss Representation | Feb 20, 2005 12:35:53 PM

Sorry, in the above, CPO should be CPC, or what every acronym the Central Park Conservancy uses. And CVJ is the company that produced the Gates.

Posted by: Miss Representation | Feb 20, 2005 12:37:14 PM

The idea that the images of Central Park or Rockefeller Center (or Ground Zero, for that matter) are "owned" by anyone is obscene. The Gates are not substantially different. Christo chose a public location and, as such, has made his art a part of the public domain.

The Gates are no longer Christo's alone. Much of the value of The Gates as art comes from the way thousands of people experienced them - and how those simultaneous, interrelated experiences altered each other. I don't accept that Christo gets to be the exclusive profiteer of what was ultimately a community experience just because he designed the playground.

Posted by: Charles | Feb 20, 2005 6:36:35 PM

Charles, private property in and of itself is obscene. Unfortunately, I find in these discussions a degree of NIMBYism in which private property is typically engendered as 'other people's property'. I have the mis/fortune, though social inequity, of being able to claim my family has never owned property (aside from a used car or two), so my strident position is easy to establish and maintain. But I wonder how many art activists might draw the line at their front door.

Posted by: Miss Representation | Feb 21, 2005 4:15:08 AM

Sorry, Miss. You've lost me. Private property isn't obscene at all. I have no problem with ownership as a general matter. I just don't believe that things like public space - or its representation - can be owned. Christo/Other Guy chose an art form whose ownership is inherently shared with its audience.

Posted by: Charles | Feb 22, 2005 2:51:53 PM

~Gee, I hope God does not sue me over all the pictures I have taken of the sky and clouds~

Posted by: btezra | Feb 23, 2005 9:29:24 AM

I hope someone has told the New Yorker magazine about this ... I recall their latest issue with an ad for a 'gates' print.
Perhaps they have licensed it, I don't know.

Posted by: Paul Moriarty | Feb 28, 2005 4:54:14 PM

I think the whole concept of anyone allowing Christo to install what he calls his art is patently insane to begin with.

Posted by: Frank in Florida | Mar 1, 2005 10:04:39 AM

If this really is their policy, it's offensive. But as Lederman describes it, it's also ridiculous and unenforceable. Lederman also says that Christo and Jeanne-Claude publisher told him they have an agreement with "the media" to use only official photos of the Gates after the exhibit is over.
Where do I contact "the media" to ask them if this is true?

Anyway, I'm happy to put it to the test. My photo is on sale now at The first thing I will do with any proceeds is renew my subscription to Stay F---!

Posted by: Rich Garella | Mar 1, 2005 12:16:21 PM

I've put in a call to the Central Park public relations dept. to set the record straight. I'll post about it once I hear back...

Posted by: carrie | Mar 1, 2005 4:59:34 PM

Charles, see, that's the problem: you simply have a differently line. You think your notion of 'ownership' is better than the Christo's, when in fact, it isn't. It's simply, and conveniently, drawn where it likely benefits you most. Once you accrue more assets, you'll move the line, trust me. And you are just jealous that they have the negotiating skills to move it to a whole other place you can't even dream of. To me, property is propery. Everything is ownable, and that is obscene. Ownership of view, concept, names, faces (soon, celebrities will be copyrighting their appearance, and impersonators will be infringement), this is simply the logical extension of the idea that you can own a plot of land. I'll try and stay on the good side of your line.

Posted by: Miss Representation | Mar 5, 2005 9:29:22 AM

When I took posession of the things I own, I either obtained them from a prior owner or made them myself. When Christo claimed that he owned all photographs of Central Park that included his Gates he laid claim to things that simply weren't his. Central Park isn't Christo's no matter how aggressively he plants his flag.

If you think this is a question of "line drawing" rather than a qualitative difference involving "stealing public space" we aren't even speaking the same language.

Your post is evidence of limited knowledge of copyright law and a simplistic version of social organization.

Posted by: charles | Mar 5, 2005 12:59:56 PM

Charles, that's a bit of a Godwinism, and your naivete slip is showing a bit too. "Limited knowledge"? How is it that Tishman can and does effectively limit use of images of their property? Christo has an agreement with the Park (either the city or its agent, the Conservancy), and it may well restrict use of images for commercial gain (and let's backtrack and note the rabble rouser who started this mess still hasn't provided any detail to make this conversation even relevant, since this thread has people conflating photography for personal use with photography for commercial gain). Your bandying about 'copyright law' as if it were the Bill of Rights is a red herring. Just as the term has been legislatively extended, why can't or won't the definition of unique works go through a similar process? The only reason there isn't case law that protects a celebrity's image from computer simulation is that there still isn't a viable commercial model yet to exploit the opportunity (what happens when someone can create synthetic versions of film using animation software? Piracy focuses on the physical act of reproduction -- once we can fabricate copies, the defintion of piracy will shift to prohibit that). That is the logical extension of private ownership of common property. I find it curious when people start using proto-socialist language when it suits them to rail against a particular instance, but then step back and call the overarching principle 'simplistic' because it fits uncomfortably with the rest of their values. It's just NIMBYism of a different stripe.

In the meantime, the CVJ people have not files papers against me, or the people I worked with, who have redistributed the photos we took (and, as I said above, were encouraged to take).

Posted by: Miss Representation | Mar 8, 2005 10:42:59 PM

Oh, and while we're talking about antiquated notions and ignorance, Charles, if you can find me some case law that defines 'public space' as commonly owned, I'd love to see it. Most times when people try this, they are typically parroting the shrinking right of Brits and the vaunted 'Common' (listening perhaps to too much Billy Bragg). Americans have almost no corollary when it comes to space. Right to speech and assembly are protected, but there is not complusion provide you a platform. Thus Fox or Sinclair isn't infringing your rights when they purchase multiple media outlets in an area and drown out your speech.

If you can find some protection of space in America, I would really welcome it. There are some town in the northeast, I think, that have local statues, holdovers from the colonial relationship to GB, and then of course, exceptions in some of the liberal enclaves, but, generally speaking, the growth of quasi public corporations (BIDs, the aforementioned CP Conservancy) exert a stirking amount of control over what you think of, quaintly, as 'public space' but since there role is typically 'benevolent' (read: optimized for business and thus restrained from playing their hand too strongly) we don't notice.

People have fought, unsucessfully, to get Malls declared areas of public assembly, as they have supplanted traditional business and civic districts. These failures have only encouraged the BID movement to apply similar strictures to public areas.

The majority of New York park space is now under what, legally, would be called 'private' control (mostly because of the size of CP, though as other larger parks, Bryant, Union Square, et al, become commerically lucrative, they too are falling into private hands). I don't know that this control extends into restrictions over photography, cause I haven't read the CPC agreement with the city. But I doubt you have either.

Posted by: Miss Representation | Mar 8, 2005 10:55:55 PM

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