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Ask Lola's Lawyer

by Adam Bobker

Dear Lola,

I'm on the lam because of my art. I am writing this from my Aunt Ida's attic in High Park and need to know if it is safe to come out. Luckily, when the cops came knocking last night Aunt Ida shuffled to the door and gave them her old lady routine: "Eh? No, I haven't seen my nephew for weeks, never calls either." The trail won't stay cold for long. Felix and Oscar, my roommates and collaborators on our video project Tails from the Dark Side were picked up yesterday, and they have big mouths. The project in question is a collection of extreme video images which explore the boundaries of human sensibilities toward animals. Our videos are provocative, if only because the animals shown are dogs and cats. But that's the point. Why is it acceptable to slaughter cattle and chickens but not acceptable to kill domestic animals? We showed the videos to our art school class last week. This week, the cops issued a warrant. Can I be charged for skinning a cat on video? Am I going to jail?

The Fugitive

Dear Fug,

Yes. It is a criminal offence to kill, main, wound, poison, or injure a dog, bird, or animal, in the name of art or otherwise. By skinning a cat you have committed the crime of injuring an animal. If you and your collaborators were foolish enough to videotape yourselves committing this crime, the Crown should have little trouble getting a conviction. You could get a $2000 fine and up to six months in jail. And those prices are going up. Today the criminal code treats animals as property, but parliament is considering moving cruelty to animals out of the property section and into a new section created just for animal cruelty offences. The penalty will then be up to five years of hard time. Art may be born of suffering, but it is born of the artist's suffering not that of his victim. You have gone beyond expression and committed a harmful act. It is not defence to say that you did it for art.

Dear Lola,

I run a website that operates as a virtual gallery with images made by me and other artists. Collectors use the site to check out the works and then they contact the artists if they want to buy something. All the artists list their contact information on the site. I know people might download these images to use as screensavers. That doesn't bother me. But the other day I found a bunch of gallery sites using many of the works online. I know they got the images from my site because these works have not been shown anywhere else. Is this allowed? Is everything free in cyberspace?

Virtual Victim

Dear Vir,

People who use your original work without your permission are infringing on your copyright. It doesn't matter that this is happening on the net. As a copyright owner you can sue and claim an injunction that prevents anyone from displaying images of your work without permission. A nasty letter letting them know you are on to them will likely get them to remove the images. If they ignore you, and you decide to sue for royalty payments, then each copyright owner should make his or her own claim. It's probably best if you and the others join forces on this. It doesn't matter that the galleries which used the art would not have done so if they had known they had to pay up front. The point is, they can't steal your work.

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Disclaimer: THIS COLUMN IS WRITTEN FOR ENTERTAINMENT ONLY. These situations are fictitious. Any similarity to one you know of is a coincidence. Every case is different. These are NOT legal opinions. YOU rely on the ADVICE contained in the answers at your own peril. IF YOU HAVE A REAL LEGAL PROBLEM CALL A LAWYER. (Adam Bobker is really a lawyer.)
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