I gave a lecture on copyright and fine art last week at Cooper Union. The audience was an interesting mix of fine art and engineering students and the questions were varied and challenging. I learned more about my art examples - a student corrected me on the source photograph for a Vik Muniz memory drawing, and the program's Director, Robert Thill, happens to be particularly well-informed on Marcel Duchamp's artworks and career.
In my lectures, I cite Marcel Duchamp as the originator of the "Readymade" - which is generally credited with sparking the major debate of "what is art" that characterized the last half of the 20th Century. I show a photograph of the urinal (known as the "Fountain") that Duchamp submitted to an art show, which was famously refused.
Professor Thill referred me to an online journal called: "Tout-fait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, found at http://www.toutfait.com/. He referred me to an article called Marcel Duchamp: A readymade case for collecting objects of our cultural heritage along with works of art. by Rhonda Roland Shearer.
The article and journal is sponsored by the Art Science Research Laboratory on Greene Street. This group has studied all of the objects that Duchamp claims that he simply purchased from mass production and then used as artworks. From the little I read, it appears that Duchamp may have actually constructed the urinal himself, as well as many of the other objects that he claimed he simply found.
In my lecture, I use the Duchamp Fountain/urinal as an example of an artwork which is questionably a work of art and not protectable by copyright, both because it is a useful object and because it lacks protectable original authorial expression. The Tout-Fait journals are fascinating reading, and fascinating to know that Duchamp may have sculpted that urinal, since there was no urinal of that description commercially available at the time. Thanks, Cooper Union!