Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rights in Property Created Under Duress

Today's NY Times has an article about Dina Babbit, a holocaust survivor who was directed by Mengele to paint portraits of Gypsy prisoners at Auschwitz.  The paintings now hang in a museum at Auschwitz, and Ms. Babbit and the museum are in a long-running dispute about ownership.  The museum acknowledges that Ms. Babbit created the paintings, but argues that the paintings should be the property of the museum.  Based on the article, the museum seems to have two arguments in support of its claim of ownership.  First, it suggests that because the paintings are of such cultural and historical importance, the rights of the museum should trump those of the creator/original owner.  Second, a spokesperson for the museum suggested that because the paintings were created under duress, the creator has a reduced interest in the work:   “we do not regard these as personal artistic creations but as documentary work done under direct orders from Dr. Mengele and carried out by the artist to ensure her survival.”  I both arguments troubling, but the second argument is appalling.  I don't see how duress reduces the creator's claim to the created object.

Ben Barros

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Ben, Not only is the second argument appalling, it raises some interesting questions about reparations to descendants of African-American slaves. All the labor of slaves was produced under duress, and while the fruits of their labor were mostly not of the tangible artistic kind of Dina Babbitt's labor, perhaps the product of their labor belongs to them as well. I wonder what Al Brophy's take on this might be.

Posted by: Calvin Massey | Aug 30, 2006 7:42:19 AM

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