By most accounts, Robert Indiana is ambivalent about his career as an artist. Perhaps his most famous work is LOVE, the iconic motif consisting of the letters L and O stacked atop V and E. All success aside, the proliferation of unauthorized copies emblazoned on countless trinkets and souvenirs made Indiana appear overexposed and commercialized relative to his Pop Art peers, according to at least one New York Times article. Indiana was unable to stop the swell of knock-offs because the work was not properly copyrighted. Today, Indiana feels that it prevented him from gaining critical recognition as an artist.
Before the Copyright Act of 1976, the United States was a hold-out among industrialized nations in that it still had harsh repercussions for artists that failed to comply with the copyright notice provisions of the 1909 Act. If the work was published without a copyright notice affixed, copyright protection would not attach and the work automatically fell into the public domain. Indiana, who refused to even sign the work for fear of “muddying it,” did not affix a copyright notice to it before allowing the Museum of Modern Art to use it as a Christmas card in 1964.
Of course, artists today need not worry about notice provisions, as the modern statute only requires an original work to be fixed in a tangible medium of expression before copyright protection attaches. It does remind us though that navigating intellectual property issues can be downright disastrous without the guiding hand of an experienced professional.