Drawing a Line in the Sand: Copyright Law and New Museums

Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 13, No. 3, Spring 2011

43 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2010 Last revised: 19 Feb 2020

See all articles by Megan M. Carpenter

Megan M. Carpenter

University of New Hampshire School of Law

Date Written: October 5, 2010


Over the last twenty years, audience attendance at museums, galleries, and performing arts institutions in the United States has decreased dramatically. Major museums and galleries are considering ways to add engaging and meaningful value to the user experience with technology, from incorporating user-generated content to creating multimedia installations billed as “collaborative” works.

This summer, the Dallas Museum of Art’s Coastlines: Images of Land and Sea exhibition featured landscapes from 1850 to the present, as well as a sound installation composed by students and faculty in the Arts and Technology program at the University of Texas at Dallas, which played on speakers throughout the show and responded directly to the works on display. Visual artist Chapman Kelley publicly objected to the collaborative project, requesting that his work be removed from the exhibition and returned to him. Kelley claimed that the soundscape effectively used his existing work to create a new piece of art without his consent. The Museum refused, citing its intent to involve the audience with works of art in new and meaningful ways.

This article explores efforts by museums and galleries to enhance user experience (and increase attendance) using technology to create interactive and engaging exhibitions, and considers the copyright implications of this “participatory museum” movement. From the derivative rights provisions in the Copyright Act to the Visual Artists’ Rights Act, where do the artist’s rights stop and the museum’s obligations begin, and how is the public’s interest best served?

Keywords: Curator, Creator, copyright, visual, artist, rights, visual artists rights act, VARA

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Megan M., Drawing a Line in the Sand: Copyright Law and New Museums (October 5, 2010). Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 13, No. 3, Spring 2011, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1687735

Megan M. Carpenter (Contact Author)

University of New Hampshire School of Law ( email )

Two White Street
Concord, NH 03301
United States
6035135100 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://law.unh.edu/person/megan-m-carpenter

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