Phillip Wong // The Articles

Superhero with a Pearl Earring

26th June 2011

Superhero with a Pearl Earring (but without the pearl earring).

Recently, news of Andy Baio’s settlement with Jay Maisel with regards to copyright infringement has worked its way around the web sparking plenty of debate on the case.  You can read Andy Baio’s full summary of the case here but a ridiculously abridged version is:

  • Baio makes tribute album of Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue in 8-bit chiptune (think of the soundtracks to video games on the Super NES circa. 1980s).
  • To complete the theme, Baio also has a version of the original cover, photographed by Jay Maisel, recreated in pixal art (again, think of the graphics of video games on the Super NES).
  • Maisel takes legal action claiming infringement of copyright.
  • Baio takes the best option available to him and settles for $32,500 to avoid the costly road of litigation.

If that interests you, it’s best that you follow up my four bullet points by reading the before mentioned summary. The legal ins and outs are best handled by other folk who are more knowledgable on this than I am; a quick search on google will sate your appetite for links.

Whatever your opinion is on who’s right and who’s wrong, its unfortunate that a personal, non-profit tribute project done for the love of it is swallowed by the heavy hand of litigation and ends with a payment of $32,500. Thinking more widely, what level of restriction is required when using something existing as inspiration for something new?

The image above is my recreation of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. It uses a toy Batman figure that I bought when I was a little tike many moons ago. I’ve always found recreations interesting ever since the first one I can remember seeing; Edvard Munch’s The Scream being portrayed by Homer Simpson. Now seemed like a good time to finally give it a go myself, albeit at a much more amateurish level compared to other examples in the world today.

Johannes Vermeer - The Girl With The Pearl Earring (1665) - Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Does this infringe on the copyright of Vermeer? He painted this in about 1665 -1667 and died in 1675 which means that copyright has well and truly lapsed. But given that I haven’t seen this painting in real life, I must have seen a photograph of the original and photographs of a painting are copyrighted. I found the photograph that I based this off of on Wikipedia which has it in the commons, so, all good there. But Batman is owned by DC Comics which does have dibs, and do I need to think about Kenner – the company that lovingly made this figurine? Hmmm, too much thinking for my layman mind. I think I should just stick to taking photos of things in public spaces.

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