What I learned from John T Unger today

November 5, 2009

Just got off a conference call with John T Unger hosted by Alyson B. Stanfield of artbizcoach.com.

It’s amazing what you can learn in a half hour of listening. As I mentioned in my other post I think about copyright often, and while I’ve never had an issue with it, today I learned some very important things that artists should be aware of.

Full disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Consult your attorney if you have questions regarding copyright law.

1. There are several layers of copyright documentation. The only one that allows you to take your case to federal court (copyright law is federal law) is to document your claims by filing for copyright with the copyright office.

You have a copyright claim by virtue of creating an original work, and placing a notification on the work helps a little, but without that documentation you limit your legal options to protect your work.

2. Filing for copyright is not that expensive. You can file for copyrights online at copyright.gov, and a basic copyright filing costs $35 (source: copyright.gov/eco) if done online. You can also file for copyrights of collections, so you don’t have to file a copyright for every piece of work you’ve created. If filing for copyright of a collection, all works in the collection must have the same publication date.

3. Document, document, document. Here’s an area where I fail. The better the documentation you have on your website, and of your work in general, the better recourse you’ll have if you need to act to protect your copyrights. So if you have a website, make sure images of your work are accompanied by title, date, size, medium and if it’s for sale, put a price on it! (Full disclosure, I don’t do this at all, a situation I plan to remedy very soon!)

4. Somebody can sue to remove your copyright (This is part of what John T Unger is dealing with). I had no idea this was possible, but it is, and this is possibly worse than dealing with an infringement issue. A suit to remove your copyright claim could result in revocation of your ownership of your work, stripping you of all rights and protections over it.

5. If you get sued to have your copyrights removed, you better show up in court. If you don’t default judgement goes to the plaintiff and you lose.

Like Martina said the other day in the comments, it’s really not worth agonizing over copyright, and when I think about it myself it’s usually an internal conversation about the merits of standard copyright versus the creative commons licensing model. What is worth doing however is taking some basic steps to protect the rights you have to your intellectual property.

If you are interested in listening to the call yourself it should be available on the artbizblog blog tomorrow. You can read more about John T Unger’s copyright battle at johntunger.com


Copyright and the art of ripping someone off

October 30, 2009

I think about copyright a lot, as I’m sure many artists do. I’ve debated with myself about just how I want to handle copyright and licesing of my work. I’ve stuck mostly to the traditional flat copyright model, although I have toyed with the ideas that Larry Lessig birthed with the creation of the creative commons.

Lately there’s been a firestorm of activity on the internet that’s put this back in the front of my mind. Through Twitter I heard about John T. Unger. He’s a sculptor that creates these really nice artesian fire bowls, and in an odd twist of fate, Unger is being sued by the company that is ripping off his designs. The suit claims that Unger doesn’t have the right to copyright his firebowls.

ungerbowlImage from johntunger.comfirepit

Image from firepitart.com

It seems rather an amusing and stupid lawsuit when you consider the copyrights Unger filed for his designs and the documentation of said copyrights. Despite the seemig frivolity, Unger has already spent $50,000 out of pocket defending his designs.  That’s a lot of money, and when he got tapped out, he did what other enterprising types do. He took his case to the internet and has received overwhelming support (full disclosure, I participated in his Kickstart fund raiser and got myself a black fire imp.)

I’m not going to re-hash too much of it here, since you can read about it on The Consumerist, or just Google John T. Unger, I’m sure the hits will be numerous.

Instead now I want to mention something else I learned about on Twitter, which was the piracy of Wil Wheaton’s recent audiobook “Just a Geek” which was released and promptly offered for free download on some pirate website. The sweet irony of it was the website offering the free-illegal-download of the audiobook, was also making pleas to site visitors to click on sponsor ads to help HIM the audiobook-pirating-theif make money.

I think about all of this and I hope that when I start putting some of my work up available for download, images, e-books, and whatever else I come up with as this project evolves, I wonder what my first encounter with piracy will be and how I’ll react to it and handle it.

I’m nearing the point where I can deploy my website redesign, and the first stage will include free high resolution downloads of images. I’ve decided to release images downloaded this way under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

It’s a mouthful, I know, but I’m hoping that the larger part of my audience will respect the license and if people start using my work for commercial purposes or creation of derivative works, perhaps it will help me focus my market appeal.

Despite my copyright concerns I’m very excited about this new direction and I know it won’t lead to an immediate flood of interest or income related to my work but I’m hoping that this is a good foundation for me to build on.

Which reminds me, my new website is live, and while this is only stage one, without any of the media offerings I talked about before, I’ve put together the framework to build it on. The next step is going to be gathering my catalog of images I’ll be offering as free downloads and setting up the download gallery. If you want to check it out I’m at www.marinatingthemind.com.

–Spyros Heniadis