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Acquiring copyright does not entitle you to a free rein

Up for auction in Canada is a series of almost 200 photographs and negatives of Marilyn Monroe taken during the making of the 1953 film Niagara. What makes them especially attractive to bidders is that they are being sold with copyright, which means the buyer has the opportunity to exploit them commercially. Hence the estimate of $50,000.

It’s not often that photos or artworks come up for sale accompanied by copyright, but when they do they tend to be fought over enthusiastically. Remember, copyright remains active until 70 years after the year in which the artist or photographer died, and this also applies to musical compositions and other creations. The extent of copyright used to be different for different artistic forms, but it has been put on a level by the European Union over the past few years.

Even if you do manage to secure copyright to something you buy, there’s something else you mustn’t forget: moral rights. These give the artist further protection, meaning that even if you do hold the copyright to their work, you can’t use it in any way that the artist or their heirs might deem derogatory or damaging to the reputation of the artist or the work itself.

A guitar set to pull strings on the rostrum

One of the reasons that rock and pop memorabilia appeals to so many people is what I refer to as the ‘musical nerd’ factor. While the top prices always come for stage-worn clothes or instruments used on seminal albums or during live shows, other influences can also come into play to make something desirable at auction.

Take, for example, a guitar consigned for sale next month. What makes this rather non-descript acoustic number worth the £15,000 estimate? The answer is that it was played by Mike Hurst of the British folk trio The Springfields – also featuring Dusty Springfield – when they were the first British group to break into the US charts, a year and a half before the Brits began their assault on American pop fans in earnest.

The Springfields broke into the US Billboard Top 20 in September 1962 with Silver Threads and Golden Needles, before disbanding in 1964 so that Dusty could continue her career as a solo artist (my own favourite of hers is a song called Spooky), with Mike becoming a music producer who worked with Cat Stevens, Shakin’ Stevens and other big names.

An added attraction here is that Jimmy Page, later of Led Zeppelin, played the guitar when he joined Hurst’s band in 1964. It cost Mike Hurst £65 in 1962. With a pedigree like this, £15,000 doesn’t sound too ambitious.

Off-the-shoulder comments that led to £20,000 auction triumph

Turn on the TV or radio these days and the news is filled with people turning dramas into crises; it’s amazing how an inadvertent word or gesture can suddenly explode in your face.

Far more unusual are events that turn the other way, where a scandal or slip transforms into something positive. That’s why I was rather taken with the tale of the MP whose wardrobe malfunction in the House of Commons defied media and keyboard warrior outrage to become a very good news story.

You may recall that Shadow Culture Secretary Tracy Brabin took to the dispatch box in the House of Commons on an urgent point of order recently only to find the shoulder of her dress slip down her arm to reveal an eye-brow raising amount of bare flesh.

With every word and blink broadcast live on TV these days, the slip – soon dubbed #shouldergate – became the media highlight of the day, with the inevitable ferocious social media debate on just how much this did [or did not] matter.

The Member for Batley did the right thing and rose above the mudslinging by putting the offending dress into auction, where it attracted 180 bids before selling for £20,200. The money will go to Girlguiding. Well done!

From three Ds to six Ds– how the auction world has changed

It used to be said that consignments to auction were fuelled by the three Ds: Death, Divorce and Debt. House clearances from the former, as families sold off heirlooms and furniture they no longer wanted, have long been commonplace. Likewise, one of the side effects of divorce is that the separating couple have to find two places to live and that can mean offloading furniture and works of art that no longer fit the new space or look. Realising the value of an asset to pay of a tax bill or other debt has also been common practice down the years.

All three of these three situations continue to apply, but I would argue that we are now dealing with the five Ds, because we can add Decluttering and Downsizing to the mix.

I suppose Downsizing is similar, in some ways, to the factors involved in Divorce – it’s really about things that no longer fit, while Decluttering is a relatively new phenomenon; generations gone by tended more towards hoarding than having a clear-out.

Another – albeit rarer – circumstance that can lead to bulk consignments at auction is the makeover; a case of out with the old and in with the new as tastes change. Could this be the sixth D? Only if you titled it re-Design.