Copyright legislation grows increasingly restrictive with remarkable regularity. Copyright was recently extended to 70 years beyond a creator's death for individuals and to 95 years since inception for corporations. As the argument goes, "fair use"—the provision within copyright law allowing commentary or satire about a protected work—adequately balances free speech requirements and the right of an author to profit from his work. But does it?
Our post-modern era of "appropriation"—or strategic use of already existing material to comment on the present?is also an era of aggressive litigation. And the ones who litigate are usually not the artists who have created a work, but large corporations trying to control the use of, say, a cartoon character (like Mickey Mouse) or a doll (like Barbie). As it is, corporations have a lot more money available to spend on going after artists then artists have available to protect their right to fair use. So what's the use of fair use if you can't afford to prove your case? It might just be easier to forget about using the iconic Barbie or Mickey Mouse in your cultural commentary.
However, Utah-based artist Tom Forsythe decided to fight for fair use rights. In 1999 Forsythe received a complaint from Mattel, which claimed that a series of images he posted on the web infringed on its Barbie copyright and trademark. Resisting discouragement, Forsythe eventually succeeded in persuading the ACLU of Southern California to take the case, which they fought with the help of a private law firm. After years of litigation, Forsythe's right to use the images of Barbie is vindicated; in 2004 he was also awarded legal costs.