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.

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