At this years academy Awards ceremony, Titanics James Cameron was fêted as a filmmaker of many talents -- director, producer, editor, king. One talent that went unrewarded that night, however, was his drawing ability, which was also highlighted in the film. Indeed, in one beloved scene, Leonardo DiCaprios character shows Kate Winslets character his sketchbook full of charcoals of nude women, drawings that Cameron himself has happily claimed credit for producing.
The director, however, has been somewhat less forthcoming about admitting that three of these sketches bear a striking resemblance to famous photographs: Sally Manns Rodney Plogger at 6:01, Alfred Stieglitzs Georgia OKeeffe, Hands, 1920, and Brassaïs Bijou of Montmartre. Before the films release, however, none of these artists (or their estates) had granted permission for the works to be used, and their appearance in the film raised eyebrows throughout the art world.
I was stunned at the alarming resemblance to photographs with which, naturally, Im intimately familiar, says Susan Arthur Whitson, director of the Edwinn Houk Gallery, which represents Mann and Brassaï and sometimes Stieglitz.
Anybody whos knowledgeable about the history of photography would recognize that these drawings were copies of famous photographs, adds Sarah Greenough, curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Art.
And that makes it a clear case of copyright infringement, according to Nancy E. Wolff, a partner at Cavallo Wolff & Wolf, attorneys for the Picture Agency Council of America. Just because you change the medium from photography to sketches, that does not permit you to copy, she says, citing the case successfully brought against Jeff Koons, who used another artists photograph as the basis for a sculpture.
Its not just tacky; its illegal, agrees a prominent entertainment lawyer. If its not complying with copyright law, each and every time this film is shown, that constitutes a publication of copyright-infringing material.
Normally, movies are fastidiously vetted by lawyers to avoid this type of problem. Cameron would not comment, but a spokesperson for Paramount, which released the film, dismisses the suggestion of any impropriety. There were some sketches in the film that were inspired by other works, he says. All necessary arrangements were made to everyones satisfaction. But the artists did not really want publicity on this, so theyve asked for their names not to be disclosed.
Thats news to Madame Gilberte Brassaï, widow of the late photographer and executor of his estate. Speaking from Paris, she says that neither Cameron nor the studio has contacted her about securing rights to the photo. She is contemplating legal action, though its very hard to go after these people, she says. Its so much trouble with the lawyers and the papers and everything you have to do to pursue something like this.
But Sally Mann apparently did make the effort to go after Cameron. I think the issue is clear that Sally believes that her photograph inspired the sketch, says her husband, Larry, an attorney. There is an agreement to allow the sketch to be used in the movie, he continues, choosing his words carefully, but if the question is whether there was prior agreement, the answer is no. And thats all I can say. According to art-world sources, Mann settled with Cameron shortly before filing a lawsuit, and as part of the deal, she agreed not to discuss the terms.
The Stieglitz estate, meanwhile, was unaware of the matter. I didnt see the movie, says Elizabeth Glassman, president of the Georgia OKeeffe Foundation (which handles the rights to Stieglitzs work). But Ive talked to one of our attorneys, and were figuring out what to do. Stieglitz has been dead for more than 50 years, so theoretically his work is in the public domain. In Europe, though, copyrights dont run out for 70 years, so well just have to see what happens.
Cameron may not be willing to discuss the copyright case publicly, but in the recent past, he has gladly accepted compliments for the drawings. Mr. Cameron, you do beautiful artwork, one fan of the sketches wrote to him during a live, online chat at Titanics official Website. Do you have any other artwork that we can see from you?
Yes, Ive been an illustrator for many years and Ive tried to stay current with the drawing skills, Cameron replied. In case the directing thing doesnt work out.