When Words Become Art: the Picturisation Right Under Copyright Law

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores the picturisation adaptation right under copyright law. The focus is on the picturisation right as articulated in Australian and United Kingdom law, but the discussion has broad relevance to most copyright systems granting copyright owners an adaptation right. Essentially, the picturisation right is the right to transform words into pictures. This right navigates the intersection between the literary and the visual, and moderates how characters, scenes and stories can be, to borrow from Shakespeare, ‘bodied forth’ in graphic form. The right correspondingly calibrates artistic freedom to interpret text and demands a careful consideration of the relationship between art and language, and the differing implications of literary and visual appropriation. This has immediate consequences for numerous artistic derivative works, including the burgeoning genre of graphic novels, comics and cartoons, and the explosion in fan art. This chapter explores the question of how copyright does, and should, respond to the transfer of words into pictures. It investigates the origins, rationale and scope of the underexplored picturisation right and interrogates how copyright law processes this relationship between text and artistic image. In considering the differing implications of literary and visual appropriation, the chapter also demonstrates how the picturisation right directly confronts the idea-expression dichotomy in copyright doctrine, and helps us understand the copyright work as an immaterial construct capable of traversing different media.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Research Handbook on Art and Law
EditorsJani McCutcheon, Fiona McGaughey
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
ISBN (Electronic)9781788971478
ISBN (Print)9781788971461
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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