February 17, 2021


Martha Buskirk, Professor of Art History and Criticism at Montserrat, has a new book that will soon be on the shelves! Is It Ours? Art, Copyright, and Public Interest, which explores intersections of artistic authorship and copyright, has an official publication date of April 13. This summary gives an idea of some of the topics she discusses:

If you have tattoos, who owns the rights to the imagery inked on your body? What about the photos you just shared on Instagram? And what if you are an artist, responding to the surrounding landscape of preexisting cultural forms? Most people go about their days without thinking much about intellectual property, but it shapes all aspects of contemporary life. It is a constantly moving target, articulated through a web of laws that are different from country to country, sometimes contradictory, often contested. Some protections are necessary—not only to benefit creators and inventors but also to support activities that contribute to the culture at large—yet overly broad ownership rights stifle innovation.

Is It Ours? takes a fresh look at issues of artistic expression and creative protection as they relate to contemporary law. Exploring intellectual property, particularly copyrights, Martha Buskirk draws connections between current challenges and early debates about how something intangible could be defined as property. She examines bonds between artist and artwork, including the ways that artists or their heirs retain control over time. The text engages with fundamental questions about the interplay between authorship and ownership and the degree to which all expressions and inventions develop in response to innovations by others. Most importantly, this book argues for the necessity of sustaining a vital cultural commons. (UCPress)

As she argues in the book, these issues will continue to be important for anyone engaged in creative pursuits. In a post for the University of California Press Blog she drew connections to a recent conflict in Kinderhook, New York, where Nick Cave had to push back against town officials who refused to accept a politically charged installation as a work of art.

To hear more about Is It Ours? in Buskirk’s own words, take a look at this video sneak peek:


Buskirk also continues to write about related topics. For a Hyperallergic op-ed that was just published, she took the College Art Association to task for not upholding crucial fair use principles in the planning process for CAA’s 2021 online conference. In a review for Critical Inquiry that appeared earlier this month, she surveyed Terry Smith’s take on contemporary art in his book Art to Come.

Is It Ours?, is available for pre-order across a number of platforms, including BookshopIndieBoundUCPress, and Amazon

The curious can find a 3-page excerpt of the first chapter, “From Privilege to IP,” at this link. Anyone looking for further insights may also want to revisit her 2016 talk on the subject, made publicly available by the Clark Art Institute.