Artist wins latest round in battle over sculpture

October 17, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

In a case with implications for all artists and their control over works they've been commissioned to create, Baltimore sculptor

James Earl Reid yesterday won access to a sculpture, which he created more than six years ago, in order to make three-dimensional reproductions.

The latest step in Reid's 5 1/2 year battle occurred when Federal District Court in Washington allowed him access to "Third World America," commissioned by Washington's Community for Creative Non-Violence in 1985. A final resolution of the dispute is still in doubt, however, as CCNV could appeal the decision.

"I feel very positive that eventually I will obtain my rights of access," said Reid yesterday. "To me it's a matter of fairness."

The dispute, which has already involved a 1989 Supreme Court decision in Reid's favor, is over the copyright to "Third World America." The work depicts three homeless people lying on a steam grate. CCNV, a group that works for the homeless, displayed it at a 1985 Christmas peace pageant. CCNV paid $15,000 for the work, but the fee did not include Mr. Reid's artistic services, which he donated.

Subsequently a dispute arose over who owned the copyright to the work, with both sides claiming it. The 1989 unanimous Supreme Court ruling, written by now-retired Justice Thurgood Marshall, declared that the sculpture was not in legal terms a "work for hire" so that CCNV did not solely own the copyright. But it sent the case back to a lower court to decide whether there was joint ownership of the copyright.

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in January declared that CCNV is the sole owner of the original sculpture, that Reid is the sole author, that there is joint ownership of the copyright for two-dimensional reproduction and that Reid is sole owner of the copyright for purposes of three-dimensional reproduction.

But CCNV refused to give Reid access to the original for the purpose of making a mold of it, which he claims is necessary for making three-dimensional reproductions.

In yesterday's decision, Judge Jackson ordered CCNV to make the sculpture available to Reid in order to have a mold made.

The case may not be over yet. Judge Jackson gave the parties five days to file applications to modify the terms of his order, and CCNV lawyer Robert A. Garrett said yesterday that he expects to do so.

The case can also be appealed to a higher court within 30 days, according to Reid's lawyer, Charles D. Ossola.

Carol Fennelly, a member of CCNV and the trustee of the sculpture, expressed disappointment yesterday. "When you pay $15,000 for a piece of property you expect to own it."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.