No, it’s NOT free…

Interesting lawsuit in the news today over Warner Bros unauthorized use of a copyrighted tattoo design in the upcoming Hangover II movie. Apparently they duplicated – almost exactly – the tattoo that artist S. Victor Whitmill inked onto Mike Tyson’s face years ago. It may be a tough one for Warner Bros to wiggle out of since Tyson appeared in the first movie, so they can hardly argue coincidence, also Whitmill has produced his copyright registration for the original tattoo, Tyson’s signed release granting rights in the work to the artist, and some photos of himself applying the tattoo in 2003.
What I found particularly disconcerting were the comments on a news show this morning – one anchor suggested the lawsuit may be “frivolous” since it was a tattoo, and the other asked if maybe the work had been in the public domain long enough to fall under “fair use” (I restrained myself from hurling my egg sandwich at the screen). Copyrighted works are copyrighted works, whether they are painted on canvas, your wall or the faces of tattoo customers, and this work is clearly being used to make a profit.
There are a couple of lessons here: first, document your work and register your copyrights BEFORE you have a problem. As evidenced by the comments above, made by people who should definitely know better, the rights of intellectual property holders are under constant attack and unfortunately you need to be prepared to fight for them. Second, don’t assume that just because a company is big they will honor your copyrights – a mistake we are all guilty of making (see my 6/3/2010 post). This is not the first time down this road for Warner Bros, they coughed up a reported 17 mil for infringing on the “Dukes of Hazzard” idea, and court records everywhere are littered with past and current lawsuits in every imaginable category involving companies both large and small.
The key is to not let this unfortunate reality of this business paralyze you – do your prep, then take it in stride and worry about your next big idea, not who is stealing your last one.

The “But” problem.

So as we taxi to the runway in Newark they suddenly spin around and park us on an open piece of tarmac. If you travel much you know this rarely turns out well. Sure enough, after a few minutes we get the news that a radio is not working and they have decided to take the plane out of service. The fully loaded, ready-to-take-off plane will need to be switched out for a different one. Ugh. (To their credit, however, they managed to get us out in about 3 hours…)
We just finished up another Surtex, a pretty good show but not a record setting event. A lot of good meetings, some wild stretches with multiple clients in the booth and portfolios flying everywhere, and a few periods when you wondered where everyone disappeared to – in other words, a typical show.
It is always enlightening to get a full review of the art in a portfolio with clients, there really is no better way to get feedback on what works and what does not. Most are happy to discuss any design or concept, usually in terms of whether it works for what they do, and sometimes we will just run a new idea past them to get a general opinion of viability. Of course they’re only human, so while some will tell you flat out what they think, others are just too darn nice, hence the “but” problem.
Over the years we have learned to read the code hidden in the answers – I like it, but…
– “it looks kind of computery”.  The kiss of death, it’s not going anywhere.
– “I’m not sure about the colors”.  I hate the colors.
– “we haven’t had much luck with that style”.  You missed the trend by five years.
  “we have Paul Brent for seaside.”  They have Paul Brent for seaside – like everyone does.
– “we are done with Christmas/Everyday/Birthday/whatever.”  Show it to me in a year.
-“it’s really not us”.  Either it stinks and they are too nice to say so, or it’s really not them.
– “we can do this in house.”  This is nothing special, why would we pay to license it.
– “personally I like the style, however…”  It belongs in a museum, not on product.
– “it is definitely a look I have not seen before.”  I can’t tell what it is supposed to be.
Everyone in the business gets this type of answer on occasion, you just need to read between the lines and make your adjustments. If you are getting them all the time, however …well, read between the lines.
Have some of your own? Let’s hear ’em!

Branding nonsense

The misuse of the terms “brand” and “branding” has long been one of my pet peeves, and I think it hit a new pinnacle of ridiculous today. The story (from Time/CNN) was about the future of Al Qaeda, the headline was “Will the Brand Survive?” Really?
Kleenex is a brand, John Deere is a brand, Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization and an artist with a concept or collection is…an artist with a concept or collection. The brand concept was hijacked by the advertising and marketing people a decade or so back and they now claim the ability to use it as a verb – asserting that a person can now “brand” something. The word gets tossed about and used interchangeably with name, trademark, style or other identifying aspects of a product so often that it really has lost its meaning.
One of my favorite defining comments about brands: You are who you sell to. 
Becoming a brand is not at all simple because brands are built in the mind of the consumer. You can’t just decide that you are now a brand any more than you can just decide “I am now a best selling artist”. Brands are defined by customers over time, they are the result of an economic relationship that grows into something more, often with  psychological and emotional ties for the customers of the brand. Let’s repeat a few of these words: Customers. Time. Economic relationship (think: sales). Brands are created by customers, not by marketing depts., brand coaches, licensing agents or positioning experts (of course, they are all happy to tell you they CAN do it – for a fee…).
This does not mean that an artist cannot approach brand status – a brand creates an image in the mind of the consumer, so when you think of Mary Englebreit, or Jim Shore, or Paul Brent, you (and everybody else) will have an immediate and recognizable image in your head of what they do. Why? Because they have delivered, over a long period of time, a consistent, quality product to their customers. Pay attention to doing that, and who knows…someday maybe…