Tag Archives: Rob Reger

Emily the Strange, Wishbones and the Endless Complications of Copyright, Patents and Property

Two very interesting posts that explore the difficulties and challenges faced by all of us as we try to contend with the issues of copyrights, patents and intellectual property.

First, over on BoingBoing (a site that continues to devote serious time and attention to these sorts of things) has the curious case of Emily the Strange. Emily is a drawing that became something of an iconic logo on all sorts of stuff one might buy at Hot Topic if one were a disaffected suburban teen.  Well, it turns out the drawing, that the artist claimed to be original, is clearly a extremely minor adaptation of a pre-existing work.  Here are the two images so you can judge for yourself:

Picture from BoingBoing

Picture from BoingBoing

The left is the original from the 1978 children’s book “Nate the Great Goes Undercover, by Marc Simont.  The one on the right was “originally” produced in 1991 by Rob Reger.

The question is what does Marc now deserve in return for Rob’s obvious reuse of his original work without consent or compensation.

Now, one could argue that Marc had already gotten his due from the book and the art contained within.  He never thought to take the image and place it into a comletely new context, thus reigniting it’s monetary value.  That’s what Rob did.  Rob’s big mistake was not the idea of repurposing some cool art from the 70’s but that he claimed it was his own and did not both to credit or compensate the original artist.

So far, I can find no official response to this “discovery” by either party but it will be interesting to see if any legal action is taken, and if so, what the courts find.

Clearly, Marc should be compensated in some way, but how much is a far more complex question.

The second story falls under the complications of copyright infringement – something I am learning more about while reading James Boyle’s insanely great book “The Publc Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind.”

According to TechDirt (another killer site for following these kinds of issues) a man successfully sued Sears after he sent them a prototype for a plastic, reusable wishbone and then discovered Sears was selling a similar item from a different manufactured.  As TechDirt points out:

“The lawsuit was over copyright infringement claims only, and Sears made two good points that should have prevailed, in our opinion. First, you can’t copyright something occurring in nature — such as a wishbone. Second, the wishbones that Sears ordered were in different colors and sizes than the ones supplied by the original company.  And, in fact, that’s exactly how competition should work. Sears pushed another manufacturer to innovate, designing different (and, in their opinion, better) wishbones. That’s competition and that’s how innovation works.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As we move deeper and deeper into the digital age and reproduction and distribution become cheaper and easier – um, have you seen the 3D printers?! – there will be some major choices to be made to balance the free flow of ideas with the need to compensate those doing the thinking.

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