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Copyright ethics and aesthetics

What a hullaballoo!

As one whose work has been copied and adapted for three decades, as well as
physically stolen from exhibits and from clients, I've had many thoughts
reading this thread.

The first time I experienced this was after my little GBW show in 1972, when
the Guild had the exhibit case at AIGA. I showed a book I had done with my
sister, _The Star_, a polychrome tooled vellum over board binding with a
star cut through the cover and all the pages, getting smaller as it went
through the book, and stopping at the back cover. My sister painted a
watercolor picture on each of the pages, based on the theme of the star that
was cut through the page. The effect was of multicolored stars receding
through space. A few months later a star just like it, with colored receding
stars inside it, appeared on TV as the CBS logo. The CBS art directors and
designers were AIGA members, of course.

I'm sure someone made a lot more money on that than I did on the book
(which, by the way, was stolen several years later from its owner, near
Philadelphia). But the evolution of a culture depends on this sort of
dissemination, influence and adaptation.

It was a lot worse, I thought, when Time-Life books had me do the section on
Bookbinding for their multi-volume "Family Creative Workshop" series (I
think that was 1973). I discovered several years later that they had
translated the text into many foreign languages and reprinted all the
photos, but deleted any reference to me and my biography, which had appeared
in the original edition. They had neglected to mention to me that they were
doing that.

Well, I was upset about that for a few minutes, especially because I didn't
even get publicity out of their sales of the books, much less royalties, but
then, I figured that hopefully someone got inspired to make a book because
of it.

There have been many other examples of people copying my work, and sometimes
they don't even know it was my work they copied. This is true of many
artists in Book Art, particularly those who go back a few years. The field
has grown so fast recently, that new artists get inspired by derivative
works all the time. More people are using Hedi Kyle's bookforms than any
other new forms that I know of, and a lot of them don't know that she
invented them. I've seen at least three knock-offs of Barton Benes's
"Censored Book" of 1973 (nailed and tied shut, gessoed and painted), and
there are probably more. The amazing thing to me is that the gallery owners
and curators don't know they are showing derivative work, because there
still is no decent art history of this field. And when one does appear, it
will, of course, reflect the viewpoint of its author, and be incomplete, and
leave out some very important and seminal artists. It's that way in every
field. Then someone will have to write another book expounding the value and
virtues of those who were omitted, and a critical academic dialogue will
develop that will support several professors and graduate theses.

As far as pedagogical methodologies go, I've passed on what I could to other
teachers. After I set up the Center for Book Arts in 1974, quite a few folks
from other places came and wanted to set up similar resources. They took the
concepts, and in some cases copied purposes and mission statements word for
word. The goal is to advance the art of the book, and the more people are
doing it, the better.

Only one time did I take any action against infringement, and that was when
a client used my design for a binding for two years, having me produce the
editions (of about 700 leather bindings) and the third year gave my design
to another bindery to produce, one day before I was to receive their deposit
on the job. They simultaneously placed my work from the previous year in an
important industry exhibit without my name on it, but claiming one of their
employees had designed it. The client said "that happens all the time in
this business". That was an action I couldn't live with, and I wrote to the
bindery they had contracted and to the institution sponsoring the exhibit.
The work was removed from the exhibit, and not produced by the other
bindery. I lost the client, of course, but I can sleep at night.


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