Heidelberg Project targets photographers selling images of art installation

Model/Mask Art: Ashur Collective. Photography: Ashlie Lauren Artistry
Model/Mask Art: Ashur Collective. Photography: Ashlie Lauren Artistry

The Heidelberg Project, a popular tourist spot, is going after photographers for selling images depicting the public art installation on Detroit’s east side.

Artist Kelly Guillory was shocked this week when Redbubble.com removed images she was selling that showed her with an oversized piece of cake on her head at the Heidelberg Project.

This Heidelberg house burned down but was on city property.
This Heidelberg house burned down but was on city property. Photo by Steve Neavling

The website alerted Guillory that the nonprofit that runs the project complained that the images contained copyrighted material and therefore are prohibited from being sold. Redubble.com recently removed other photographers’ work that depicted the Heidelberg Project, which is run by artist Tyree Guyton and his wife, Executive Director Jenenne Whitfield.

Whitfield didn’t respond to requests for comment.

RELATED: What the Heidelberg Project doesn’t want you to know

It’s a complicated issue. Copyright laws generally protect works of art from being reproduced for commercial purposes, but the Heidelberg Project doesn’t own most of the land where the art has been assembled. Of the 50 parcels in the two-block area, just four belong to the nonprofit.

After consulting with an attorney this morning, Guillory said she doesn’t believe the Heidelberg Project has a case and even mocked the nonprofit by posting on Facebook one of the images emblazoned with the message: “Can’t touch this.”

“I have called the Heidelberg and they have yet to call me back,” Guillory, a graphic novelist, said.

RELATED: How the Heidelberg Project got started. 

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • Mariano_H

    isn’t tyree either squatting or trespassing with a number of these homes? It has to be one or the other, and then vandalism if he wants to get technical. This is public domain stuff, anyone can take a pic of it, then it is their unique piece that they own. If he wants to go buy a warehouse, put this stuff inside, and pay for upkeep and security, insurance, taxes, utilities, parking, etc, then he can get mad when people take pics of his private collection.

    As far as I can tell, there is zeo legal reasons, I cannot do the exact same thing he is doing, on the same street, with any left behind house. I can do this just as well as he can.

    He is getting to big in his own mind.

  • angel grimes

    Detroit is the Hberg project.

  • Dust Buster

    did he get busted for arson yet? seriously how many shitty houses can you nail shitty stuff to and milk it to death? it is nothing more than organized rubbish after the first house was done.

  • 1Joshua

    Hberg us garbage, Let it go away. Or rezone it in East Pointe. Then it will go away for certain.

  • casiel1969

    Actually the Heidelberg Project will win on this one under the VARA act. They don’t need to own the land. It covers photographs of the public artwork. There are actually huge potential penalties under this law. People have been awarded settlements in the millions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_Artists_Rights_Act

    • Geoff

      Not so sure about that. If you read the wiki carefully, it seems that only applies to privately purchased or held artworks that are destroyed or manipulated without the artist’s consent. Or public artworks on private land that are removed, moved, or unattributed in some way. I don’t think it would apply here. You are always legally protected to photograph anything in plain view while on public property. Since the house/artwork in question is plainly visible from the street and also owned by the city, there should be no implications for taking photographs there.

      Public property:
      – It is legal to photograph or videotape anything and anyone on any public property.
      – Photographing or videotaping a tourist attraction, whether publicly or privately owned, is generally considered legal, unless explicitly prohibited by a specific law and/or statute.

      Private property:
      – Photography may be prohibited or restricted within an area of property by the property owner. At the same time, a property owner generally cannot restrict the photographing of the property by individuals who are not located within the bounds of the property.

      • casiel1969

        The wiki isn’t really comprehensive. It’s a really stringent law and it’s actually pretty surprising how many ways there are to run afoul of it. They consider anything viewable from a public area, even if it’s on private property, to be public art. I’m only familiar with the law because I know someone who’s run afoul of it. I’d recommend going to the direct source if you’re interested. The other problem is that what’s being photographed is copyrighted artwork and the other artist is selling prints. It’s the money that gets in the way. You do have a right to photograph almost anything (except for public works as defined by this law) but you are not necessarily able to profit from the photographs. So journalism is protected, but books of collected photos that are sold for profit and not in a news publication are no longer protected. Anyway, the main thing was that most people aren’t aware that there’s any Federal law that pertains to works of public art and protecting them well beyond copyright law.

        • Mariano_H

          well thats true, if you are not selling it, you do have the right to take photos.

          I think in this case you could argue the art is in the photo not the house. If you want to argue the art is the house, then I would argue, great, then the money goes to who owns the house, not tyree. I would not recognize any art that started on any house, that he did not own free and clear from the start. So any house that he started on in 1989 that he did not own, but later owned, I would not recognize. I would demand he be punished also.

    • Dust Buster

      so based on your learned legal scholarship, those izzy girls from gross pointe can also sue anyone that took picks of their fuck you artwork? they didnt own the land like the hidelberg guy didnt own the homes. they can claim the same thing since they were artists expressing their art so i hope their lawyers use the same logic you outlined

      • Trexinmichigan

        Not the same thing toolbot, go spam the OP.

        • Mariano_H

          Yes it is the same thing. He explained why. Unless by not the same thing, you mean age, race, sex, socioeconomic background. Which you would be correct on, but now giving the girls a second reason to sue.

          • Dust Buster

            you are trying to reason with a liberal. you would have better luck trying to teach a dog to use a calculator

        • Dust Buster

          see what happens when you libs take a second to slow down your emotions and try and use facts? you fail. miserably. so go back to pretending obumba is the best thing since unicorns and santa clause. do anything go organize a community of illegal voters.

          go hand out needles to addicts do something but please when the adults are talking keep your mouth shut and stay out of it. you clowns can vote and look what you did with that…… run along dummy

    • Mariano_H

      Yes they need to own the land ! Otherwise its covered under trespassing, squatting, vandalism. Who ever owns the properties needs to clean them up, or anyone, who has been fined by the city for graffiti could sue on the grounds this is a violation of the 14th amendment.

      Its not his land, the same loose free ideas you have, also would allow me to go destroy his art by doing my art on top of his art. Right?

      I think you are confusing me a famous artist doing art, selling it to a city, then its in a park, or donate it, etc.

      That is wildly different then what he is doing.

    • Dust Buster

      so can the world sue google street maps?

  • For everyone tuning in, go buy Odyssey #1! Issue 2 is currently in production. This is being produced by Ashur Collective to encourage kids to get into the sciences. http://gumroad.com/houseofessex