"Plagiarized" Chris Foss painting sells for $5.7m



His paintings need a reference section…


Quick P.S.: I think it’s a good idea to expose hucksters and big companies who abuse free culture and fair-use rhetoric. There are many obvious differences between a remix and a swipe, and people who pretend not to see them are generally trolling.

If anyone think’s Brown’s appropriation of Foss’s work is legit transformative, though, all power to you.


This, though, seems like a logical extension of the idea that stuff should enter the public domain much sooner than it currently does. It’s a difference of degree, not of kind, from–for example–what musicians do when they sample or quote other works.


Sigh… I seriously thought this idea died already. The idea itself is redundant, old, and has been done a billion times by others.

It’s not meta… it’s just sad. Fools and their money though.


"If you’re ever frustrated when someone looks at modern art and dismisses it out of hand, or assumes that the artist and the business are a conspiracy of pretentious idiots and fraudsters, just remember that people like Brown are why. "

Wait… I thought we’d established earlier that the CIA was why!

From what I heard Foss actually gave written permission.

I still like the idea of mechanical licensing for all copyright (how covers of songs work), but I doubt it’ll catch on. (i.e. in this case Brown could have proceeded without Foss’s permission, but would have had to pay Foss a statutory cut)

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I daresay Shia Labeouf would be proud . . .


Foss might well have gotten a percentage. This is sort of why I think this is not an issue of plagiarism at all, and only speculatively an issue of copyright, and more a moral issue for The Arts.

steeples fingers

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I tend to dismiss anyone who starts calling their art transformative.

I guess if the buyer thinks it’s worth that much…

This is just Liechtenstein, but with some credit given…


The thing that boggles my mind is that price – or even a tenth that price – for what is basically an illustration, a book cover. Who the hell pays $5.7M for a random SF illustration like that? There are probably tens of thousands of better quality works floating around for $57,000 or less. Just go to any major SF con art show.

Of course it’s just my opinion: I’d say the original is dull and weakly composed but it’s not awful; however the Brown version seems to me to be garish and ugly.

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Ostensibly, they’re paying for the transformative context of the new work. They’re blown up to immense size, saturated, etc. The buyer brings his or her own context, too.

because it is a unique painting. the owner can show status .

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arty language isn’t considered context.

Did the auction house disclose that it was a copy of another work?

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Amusingly, I already “transformed” the image from the UK cover of The Stars Like Dust for Badass Space Dragon.

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why would they need to - buyer should research the item - like any other.

If you are spending that much money, you should know what you are buying.

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“Everyone” in the “arts” knows that this is Brown’s thing, but it looks like Sotheby’s might have been neglectful in its disclosures for this auction, helping to prime the imbroglio. “After Chris Foss” was definitely added at some point, though. I put “plagiarized” in quotes because it really isn’t: Brown discloses the relationship to the original.

The problem is that the differences are technically trivial, with the bulk of the alleged transformation taking place in the realm of context. Which is bullshit, because you could effect the same “transformation” by making mechanical reproductive tweaks to the original (size, saturation) and selling it at Sotheby’s with some arty bollocks.


The tension between the two urges–one, to push works into the public domain more quickly, and, two, to make sure that works aren’t too faithfully copied (even if they would, under scheme one, be in the public domain)–is interesting to me, in part because I feel the same discomfort that I suspect you feel. Something about it feels wrong (maybe from the old moral-rights lizard brain), even though this kind of copying is one logical end result of my deep desire to see the public domain radically expanded.

It’s tough to articulate a principled distinction here. Brown seems to have done all an IP-rights-limiter could want: I understand he asks for permission and I understand he gives attribution to the original artist.

He’s certainly got me thinking hard about my reaction to the work, which I guess is one way of marking it as art, right?