Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just Try to Keep This Plate Spinning

Over the past few days, I've been hearing that the artist responsible for the image on one of the California license plates has been trying to renegotiate the terms under which the state gets to use the image. There's an article in the Los Angeles Times, which you can link to here.

There are plenty of mistakes that were made in this arrangement. First of all, it is described as a "handshake deal," which is always a mistake but more so with something that is on-going. Then Wyland, an artist whose murals I've seen in several places (but didn't connect with the license plate until this article) claims he can change the terms of whatever agreement he had because he's the artist and owner of the intellectual property. Uh, that's a pretty stupid statement in terms of business arrangements which were done on a hand-shake. He's claiming the "license" was only for a term that is now over. If that is true, he could indeed ask for different terms to extend the use and the state has the right to find another artist.

If the new image looks too much like Wyland's, he might have a case for suing for copyright infringement but not if it's an independently created new image. Wyland doesn't have a monopoly on the idea of using a whale's tail to decorate a license plate for charitable purposes--despite the fact that the article quotes him as basing some of his claim on his "idea." Nope, only the expression is protected.

Wyland now gets 10% of the money for a plate he designed for Florida. Maybe he learned something about the value of his work after he did the California plate, got a real deal with Florida, and is trying to build on it. Apparently, Wyland wants to get 20% of the proceeds from the sale of the California plates to go to his own foundation--those of us in California pay a hefty premium every year to get these special plates and a nice portion of that goes to a particular charity or another. In the case of the whale tail, it goes to the California Coastal Conservancy. The photograph of the Wyland license plate appears at the left and it comes from the California Coastal Commission website.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this dispute. I've got a button which reads "This job would be great if not for the clients" and I sure wouldn't want either of these clients knocking on my door.

Here's my big advice for the day: even if it is for a cause you believe in, get the terms in writing. It protects both sides.

Personally, I've got the picture of Yosemite on my plates.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What First Amendment?

An article appeared in today's Los Angeles Times about the problems caused by the presence of paparazzi in Malibu. Here's the link. The problem is not limited to Malibu--wherever young celebrities hang out, so do photographers looking for that money-making shot. Apparently, the photographers travel alone and in packs in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and on Robertson (Avenue, Street, or Boulevard, I'm not sure) where there are lots of trendy boutiques.

Clearly, I don't go to many trendy places, because the only time I'm likely to see a swarm of photographers is when I'm walking a red carpet or when I'm in San Diego for Comicon, where the swarm follows the stars for their appearances. Last year, when David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles, I was driving home and saw a swarm of photographers along Pierce College's Victory Boulevard fence. Victoria Beckham was with the kids at a soccer match, so the little flies were buzzing. I'm not entirely sure it was legal for the school to keep the photographers at bay like that--it is a public school and it is, technically, public land. At least that's what the horse owners got told when we wanted to keep people from walking through the barns at Pierce and sticking their fingers in our horses' faces. Maybe Posh Spice smiled nicer than we did.

Like the situation at Pierce, I'm not sure that the mayor of Malibu, who is now trying to craft a law to keep the paparazzi at bay in her "Mayberry-like" community. For good or ill, the paparazzi are a part of the press, whether they are freelancers or in the employ of an agency. It seems to me that there are already laws in place upon which a particularly intrusive photographer can be dissuaded from pursuing his or her career, such as those against trespass, assault, battery, reckless driving, or false imprisonment.

While the main stream media often portrays the paparazzi as parasites, it seems that there is more of a symbiotic relationship between many of the paparazzi and their prey. People like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears would be long past their 15 minutes of fame but for their encouragement of the prying lenses. This isn't always the case. There are plenty of examples of the press or photographers actively goading celebrities into unflattering situations.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I believe everyone is entitled to some privacy. I don't believe that everything a celebrity does is news or my business. Going to a premier is public and most actors are gracious under those circumstances. Going out to dinner with friends or the family or going grocery shopping? That's private. Leave them alone. No one can be on 24-7 (except maybe I do expect a President who is, but I'm sorely disappointed these days) and even people who make their living by being famous are entitled to down-time.

California already has a law on the book by which a photographer can be prosecuted for invasion of privacy by using an extreme telephoto lens to get a picture within the confines of someone's home or yard. That may not be so bad, but finding a way to prevent reportage (and photographs are reportage, just like words are) because you don't like the "speakers" should face pretty high hurdles before enforcement. The problem is that many individual photographers aren't in any position to pay for the kind of legal fight opposing crippling legislation might cost. That's probably not a problem for TMZ and X17.

I've been hearing rumblings about what the mayor of Malibu is trying to do for several weeks. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for a more definite ordinance.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

June 20 Program on Copyright and Trademark Issues

I'll be giving an overview of copyright and trademark issues concerning visual artists next Friday, June 20, for the Simi Valley Art Association. A couple of their members attended the program I did at Continental Art Supplies earlier this year and invited me to speak.

The 7:00 PM session will be held at the Community Room of the Simi Valley Public Library at 2969 Tapo Canyon Rd Simi Valley , CA 93063. Admission is free to students with accompanying adults. Non-SVAA members donate $7 at the door. (Proceeds go to the art scholarship fund for high school students.) The room has capacity for 120 people. My presentation should start about 7:15, after they finish with preliminary matters. There's plenty of parking and it's easy to find as it's next to the city hall.

So come on out and I can try to answer your copyright and trademark questions.