Last fall, wholesale company Cody Foster faced a wave of copyright infringement allegations after Oakland illustrator Lisa Congdon accused the business of stealing her original designs. The controversy was included in my cover story published last week on the rise in corporations ripping off independent artists. Cody Foster officials have declined to comment on the matter for months, but lawyers for the Nebraska-based company have been working behind-the-scenes to do damage control. Since publishing my story, I received a copy of a threatening letter that Cody Foster's attorney sent to a Flickr user who had closely scrutinized the company's catalog, publishing images of dozens of its products alongside original designs the business may have stolen.
The letter from Cody Foster's lawyer said the Flickr user is "liable for harm" and that the company "may seek statutory damages, actual damages as well as injunctive relief." Perhaps the most surprising part of the threat, the attorney wrote that this Flickr user violated the copyright protections of Cody Foster — and is thus subject to damages under the US Copyright Act.
What happens when independent artists discover that major retailers are selling blatant knockoffs of their works? That's one of the central questions I explore in this week's cover story on corporate copyright theft, which chronicles the experiences of visual artists in the Bay Area and around the country who have had their work stolen for profit. You can see a sampling of these rip-offs here.
One of the biggest challenges for independent artists, many who work full-time to handcraft and sell their original products, is that it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to take legal action against a large corporation. Jamie Spinello, a jewelry designer and former Oakland resident who now lives in Austin, recently experienced this hardship firsthand when she corresponded with four companies that were all selling knockoffs of her designs. Her attorney Emily Danchuk, who is in the process of launching an association called Copyright Collaborative, shared with me one of the most egregious responses from a company profiting from Spinello's design. I've published excerpts of the exchange below, which offers an insight into the sometimes very frustrating responses from corporations accused of theft.
In this week's cover story, I explore the troubling trend of large corporations ripping off independent artists by stealing designs for their own products and profits. Often, third-party wholesalers manufacture cheap knockoffs for retail companies without the permission of the original artists — and without offering any compensation. The piece was inspired by the case of local street artist Eddie Colla, who found one of his works on Walmart.com last year.
In reporting the story, I collected evidence of this theft from artists and attorneys across the country.
To get a better sense of this kind of copyright infringement, which impacts a diverse range of creators and can be quite blatant, I've compiled a sampling of examples from the artists below.
Last month, a viral ad from the Oakland-based toy company GoldieBlox got even more attention when the Beastie Boys publicly criticized the business for using the group's song without its permission. GoldieBlox, which works to confront gender bias with toys that promote engineering for girls, has since taken down the video, a parody on the Beastie Boys song "Girls." (For example, instead of the Beastie Boys lyric Girls - to do the dishes, the girls in the GoldieBlox video shout Girls - to build the spaceship!).
The legal fight, however, is not over.
Yesterday, the Beastie Boys filed a counterclaim against GoldieBlox, alleging copyright infringement. This move comes two weeks after GoldieBlox posted an open letter to the Beastie Boys on its website, saying it wanted to avoid a legal battle and that it had removed the song from its video. "We don’t want to fight with you," GoldieBlox wrote. "We love you and we are actually huge fans."
GoldieBlox, an Oakland-based toy company that encourages girls to become engineers, is publicly feuding with the Beastie Boys over its new viral advertisement. The company, which aims to push back against gender biases in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, has received a lot of attention over the last week for its catchy parody of the Beastie Boys' song "Girls."
And now, GoldieBlox has taken legal action against the band in what appears to be a preemptive measure to thwart threats from the group — which has since released an open letter to the company, claiming that, while it supports the message of "empowering young girls," it cannot condone the use of its music in a commercial ad.
A graffiti art competition will take place tomorrow at deFremery Park in West Oakland, featuring some of the best graffiti artists in the nation. The contest is part of an all-day festival — Prism: Urban Art and Cultural Festival — organized by the Estria Foundation,.
Jean Quan's rise in the underground hip hop scene. An Alameda petition to move the island closer to San Francisco. Johannes Mehserle's new role as Oakland police compliance director. These stories and much, much more are all available in the first-ever print edition of Oakland Unseen, the East Bay's version of The Onion, which will have a formal launch at Oakland Art Murmur this Friday.
Matt Werner, the (previously anonymous) brains behind the hilarious online news satire, gave the Express a sneak peek of Oakland Unseen's print debut — and we've included some highlights below to wet your appetite. Trust us when we say the whole thing, an impressive 16-page publication, is worth a read.
"It's the unseen, unheard stories of Oakland," said Werner, author of Oakland in Popular Memory and editor with Thought Publishing. "The big irony is that Oakland has such extremes that you are often confronted with the absurd in your daily life. Life is kind of absurd in Oakland."
If Sundays on Telegraph aren't already colorful enough, this weekend two artists will be adding a new splash of color to the festivities. Berkeley natives Tim Hon and Steve Ha of the Illuminaries art group are spray painting a mural onto the side of Shakespeare & Co Books on Telegraph Avenue. They began their work this morning and will be finishing up the painting during the street fair on Sunday evening in conjunction with live musical performances.
Hon and Ha are both seasoned mural painters, with their work enlivening walls across the Bay Area. Last year, they sprayed the Mission District of San Francisco with a 49ers mural during the Super Bowl and an SF Giants mural during the World Series. As one would expect, both were very popular with the community.
Remember when you were a kid, and mood rings were the coolest thing ever? How did it always know when I was feeling “lovable” or “unsettled?” How come nobody wears those anymore? Kids these days are so hard to please. Luckily, a group of Oakland artists are building a sort of 21st century mood ring in the form of an interactive sculpture that they are hoping will blow students minds. Headed by Don Cain, the team is creating a 15-foot-tall steel brain hooked it up to an EEG headset. When it is finished, kids and adults will be able to step right up and illuminate the sculpture with their brain activity, as LED “neurons” change hue in correspondence to their mood. Slightly more accurate than 25-cent jewelry, I imagine.
The sculpture is entitled “Mens Amplio,” which translates to “expanding mind” in Latin. It will be a massive, outlined brain formed out of sinuous steel pipes encased in a head-shaped cage that is half-buried in the ground. The EEG headset will measure levels of brain activity, showing how attentive or meditative the participant is. This activity will then translate into a spectrum of color that lights up an LED “neuron tree” inside of the brain. There will also be an element of combustion involved, but Cain doesn’t want to give that away just yet.
Now that Art Murmur has become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, there is more to see than ever. Here are our picks for the best happenings this First Friday, November 2.
Puppetry gets the high-art treatment at Puppet Laboratory, an evening of puppet-making and performance facilitated by Bay Area artist Erica Gangsei. Beyond arts and crafts, Gangsei will cover elements of puppet theory such as "googly eyes: yes or no?" It better be "yes." At MacArthur B Arthur. 7-10 p.m.