Copyright, Borrowed Images and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach

22 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2020

See all articles by William M. Landes

William M. Landes

University of Chicago Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: December 2000


This paper examines from the standpoint of economics the relationship between copyright law, borrowed images and the post-modern art form known as appropriation art. Artists and judges have very different views regarding how the law should treat appropriation art. The artist perceives legal restraints on borrowing copyrighted images as a threat to artistic freedom. The law gives artists no special privileges to borrow copyrighted material. Although there are no market impediments to licensing most copyrighted images, fair use would lower transaction and access costs. These cost savings should more than offset the reduced incentives to create new images in cases where the appropriation artist has already paid for the image or is making only a few copies. In contrast, when the appropriation artist makes many copies, he should be treated no differently from a firm that incorporates licensed images in products such as calendars, coffee mugs and beach towels.

Suggested Citation

Landes, William M., Copyright, Borrowed Images and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach (December 2000). Available at SSRN: or

William M. Landes (Contact Author)

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