Blog / 2014 / The Copywrong in My Own Backyard

September 16, 2014

Earlier this summer I had some fun poking at the Fonthill Castle’s questionable copyright, but the truth is that there’s worse going on right here in my hometown. According to the Willamette Week’s cover story this week, the statue of Portlandia which adorns the landmark Portland Building remains the intellectual property of Raymond Kaskey, an artist who seems to relish shutting down almost all derivative works made from his statue.

The article’s brilliant thesis is that Kaskey’s close control of his work has actually doomed the work to semi-oblivion, which is a take that I find both obvious and quite refreshing. Too few people will call copyright out for the many problems it creates.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Some people think that an artist should be able to smother their art by enforcing their copyright fully. They believe that, even though Kaskey was remixing elements of the seal of Portland and of countless classical statues to create his Portlandia, he should be able to stop anyone else from remixing his work.

In fact, Peggy Kendellen of the Regional Arts and Culture Council is quoted in the article: “Many artists have had their works taken advantage of in the past. It’s important to protect the rights of the artist.”

When I read that, my jaw nearly fell off. Kendellen is the RACC staff member who repeatedly pressured me to infringe on Disney’s copyright while I was working on my own piece of public art for the City this past year. She wanted me to break the law, while also making clear that the City would not stand by me if the mega-corporation mega-sued me.

That’s right: Kendellen is both for and against copyright.

And she’s not alone. Plenty of people believe that individual artists should be able to control their work and make money off of it, but that big companies like Disney should not. I imagine that the logic behind such thinking goes something like this:

artists I like = good
big companies = bad

And, while I can’t find any real flaw in that reasoning, I do wonder how these people think things actually play out for artists. Our legal system favors those with money over those without, and, since most artists fall in the latter category, I’m not sure how supporting copyright for their sakes makes any sense. Kaskey, with his oodles of cash to spend on lawyers, is the exception, not the rule.

Working Kirk Reeves mural in Portland, Oregon
detail of Somewhere over the Rainbow (Kirk Reeves)

All of which is to say that if you really believe that “artists I like = good” and “big companies = bad” then please do something about it. Don’t support copyright at all. Learn about the problems it causes for the artists you like by watching this movie or reading this book.

And, for the record, my piece of public art, the Kirk Reeves mural on NE Grand at Lloyd pictured above, is in the public domain. It is free for use by anybody in any way, like every artwork I create. What’s more, before there’s any discussion, I’ll say again that I’ve made my living as an artist for eleven years now.

Copyright is not what allows artists to make a living. Your thoughtful support is.

In my case, that support can come in a number of shapes or sizes: you can buy my original art or books, and there are plenty of print options as well!


October 1, 2014

I published all my relevant communication with Peggy Kendellen and the RACC in this article, so that everyone can learn more about the intricacies of public art and copyright.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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