Copyright and Digital Art: Through the Looking Glass

22 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2020

See all articles by Smita Kheria

Smita Kheria

University of Edinburgh - School of Law

Date Written: January 2016


Copyright promotes creativity. Copyright hinders creativity. These statements reflect the contested nature of copyright, today more than ever before. The last twenty years have seen rapid advancements in digital technologies and information and communication systems. These advancements have had profound effects on creative activities: the process of production, dissemination, exploitation and consumption of creative output has changed; opportunities for novel ways and forms of creation, representation and manipulation of information have arisen; and, the attitudes and behaviour of creators and consumers of creative output and a host of intermediary participants in the process have transformed. As a result, copyright law has faced considerable and persistent practical challenges in adapting its contours to the digital environment. More importantly, the role of copyright, as a framework for regulating creative activities, has also come under scrutiny.

What then is the role of copyright law in the everyday context of new and emerging creative activities -- that are borne out of the very copying and distribution technologies that have challenged copyright? How do the creative practitioners involved in such activities relate to copyright law? This chapter explores the interaction between copyright and the everyday life of artists in the digital environment. It focuses on the role of copyright in the every day context of a specific creative activity: digital art practice. It draws upon the findings from a qualitative empirical study, consisting of in-depth interviews with digital artists in the UK and Ireland, to peer ‘through the looking glass’ at the perspectives and practices of digital artists and finds ‘a messy wonderland of copyright in action’. A wonderland where: artists challenge and resist the law’s default positions and policy’s dominant presumptions, artists are informed and influenced by multiple elements and contextual factors in their process of meaning-making and decision making about copyright, and, artists face moral dilemmas and are pulled in different directions with respect to their perspectives and decisions regarding copyright.

Section II of this chapter contextualizes the study and outlines the methodology employed. Section III and IV presents some of the findings from the study to demonstrate how the interviewees were challenging ownership and valuing authorship and illustrate how a variety of factors influenced the artists’ understandings around copyright. Section V provides concluding remarks.

Keywords: Copyright, Copying, Rights, Copyright in action, Creativity, Creative practice, Art, Artist, Author, Creator, Digital Artist, Qualitative empirical study

Suggested Citation

Kheria, Smita, Copyright and Digital Art: Through the Looking Glass (January 2016). Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper No. 2012/19, Available at SSRN: or

Smita Kheria (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh - School of Law ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, EH8 9YL
United Kingdom

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