Posted by Nima On Tuesday, May 24, 2011 5 comments
This is intended as something like a capstone to the whole Greg Paul topic. But beyond the recent words of Greg Paul, there is the greater issue of artist branding and what exactly is intellectual property or what is artistic license.
The "No GSP" logo. Free for public use.
I see an issue here which has barely been talked about on ArtEvolved (where many aspects and current issues in Paleo-art, including Greg Paul's explosive comments) have been extensively debated and discussed. While chatting with fellow artist and ArtEvolved member Raven Amos on DeviantArt, I remembered an idea that had been on my mind ever since the Greg Paul copyright debate started on the Dinosaur Mailing List. Create a logo! It's so simple yet so seemingly elusive of a concept to paleoartists. If Greg Paul had put a recognizable logo on all his art, plagiarism of his work would not be as common a problem as he claims it is (though none of us really know how prevalent plagiarism of GSP is, since we have yet to actually see it). You see, artists with a logo get taken more seriously, and don't have to fall back on weak excuses like "my pose is a brand in itself" the way Greg Paul has had to do.
Notably, something that has stuck out like a sore thumb is the relative backwardness of most of the artists in paleoart. I'm not saying this as an insult to anyone - it's simply a disturbing fact. In this age when everyone is branding their work and inventing a logo or a trademark symbol to make it unique, most paleoartists are not doing this. Not only do they not put a logo on their art, they often also don't have one simply for promoting their site. And as a result, we are simply dependent on looking at the poses and arrangement of elements in paintings to identify fraud or ripoffs.
Poses breed Posers
Greg Paul's most incendiary demand is that people not even use a similar pose to the ones he uses when making skeletal drawings. The situation is literally so dismal that Greg Paul, a 30-year veteran of the profession, has resorted to claiming that his poses alone are a brand - this is at best an attempt at branding born out of sheer desperation, far too little and far too late. Poses can be used by others if they're simply based on natural animal movements. The thing is, Greg Paul would probably not be resorting to claiming ownership over a mere pose (and thereby antagonozing most of his colleagues) if he had JUST invented a logo and used it for the past 30 years - though that's assuming that people actually have ripped off his skeletals outright. As I've pointed out before, none of us really know how much of Greg Paul's work has actually been plagiarized for profit by others, as he hasn't actually gone into details. Though I can imagine it might be more pervasive that most of us know, since he has never used a logo on his art.
All the posers that could be out there copying Greg's work probably would not have gone as far as they did if he had a recognizable and publicly visible brand, or for that matter, a website, since the early days of the internet. Instead, from 1995 to 2009 he didn't even have a website, and most lay dinosaur fans and amateur artists only knew him as an obscure and reclusive artist whose dynamic illustrations made some waves back in the 1980s and rarely appear in some dinosaur books by other authors every now and then. Even his own internet-age books, like Dinosaurs of the Air and the Princeton Field Guide, were very poorly promoted online and his website says barely anything about them. No matter how well you know the industry, it's mostly people outside the industry that you have to worry about underbidding you and ripping you off - it's them you need to reach and get to respect you and take you seriously so that plagiarism does not happen. They are the ones who don't know you or respect your brand - because lets face it, these days unless you have a consistent logo for any length of time, you really don't have a brand.
And no, a running pose, a signature, or a silhouette of a nude woman skipping on her tiptoes does not count as a logo (though it could be one if it were modified with some word art instead of being just a scientific scale figure). The logo could even be a tiny thing in white, on top of the blacked-out portions of his more incomplete skeletals. Greg Paul actually does have a logo of sorts, a blacklined version of his charging Triceratops horridus pair from Paul (1991), which appears on his website's header and also on his letterheads. But this never appears on his drawings or paintings, either as an actual stamp or as a digitally added logo.
Greg Paul's site header. Posted here for informational purposes only. Note the Triceratops pair logo at left. This unique logo shockingly does not appear on a single Greg Paul drawing or painting.
This is truly a bad situation for anyone who wants to sell his or her art. A single, fixed logo or mark is far more recognizable than an artistic style. While Greg Paul is lambasting his critics for supposedly not properly respecting the Occult Alchemy of Paleo-Illustration, he might as well put some arcane Master's Mark on his work that will at least brand it and make it recognizable to the uninitiated on the basis of more than just the aesthetic style.
Even a third-rate imitator like Josef Moravec, who is hardly an original artist (and frankly a person I have very little regard for, as he simply rips off the exact scenes of Knight and Burian from 50 years ago, including all their outdated inaccuracies) nevertheless has a logo which he puts on every image of a painting on his website. The entire site oozes with branding and copyright warnings! So you'll have a pretty hard time getting away with stealing or plagiarizing his images, even though he practically makes his living stealing from Knight and Burian, who painted for a pittance in a time when scientific artists' intellectual property rights (and suing over them) were a non-existent issue. Hey, at least Moravec has business acumen, unlike most real paleoartists today, who sadly are stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to online branding and self-promotion. Some artists actually seem to expect that their very style should be sufficient as a trademark in and of itself! This is beyond naive in today's world. And yet shockingly, this lot complains of fraud.
Woolly mammoths by Josef Moravec (posted for informational purposes only). Notice Moravec's trilobite logo, trademarked corporate brand, and copyright. While this may be total overkill for an image that was copied almost verbatim from a much older Zdnek Burian painting, it's still a prime example of a painter who actually has a logo and a brand.
Zdnek Burian's original woolly mammoths, circa 1950s. Note the matriarch's identical tusk shape, the nearby baby, and the large male off to the left rearground - the poses and locations are almost identical! No logos or recognizable branding for paleoartists in those days - intellectual property wasn't even a relevant issue for them in the early 20th century. As a result they have been the victims of numerous widely reproduced knock-offs and art frauds for decades, of which Moravec is only the recent tip of the iceberg.
Now while earth-tinged agile dinosaurs with large flat lateral surfaces, horizontal stripes, highly angular skin folds, or dappled-scale pencil drawings on coquille board may be "signature" identifiers of a Greg Paul, the reality is that NO artist should be without a logo. We have stayed backward in the sense that we have not moved beyond the Renaissance-era thinking that your paintings and your style are your only calling card. Back then, a master would have several students learn under him, to complete his paintings in his style as per his directions. Their styles would imitate the master though once on their own they would inevitably sign with their own name. But there was no copyright, no logo, no trademarks. Now the world has changed, and you need to brand with a logo. Relying only on poses or styles as a brand is an open invitation to posers who won't think twice about not asking your permission to copy an entire life scene outright from the exact same angles, never mind just using a similar pose for a simple skeletal profile drawing. A unique human scale figure is not enough, there are a million of them and barely anyone remembers the difference, since in most cases it's just another generic human. YOU NEED A LOGO.
But your majesty, a logo can still be copied, plagiarized, or cut out altogether - how does it solve anything?
It solves the problem of having nothing but a signature to identify your work - branding isn't a guarantee against fraud, but it DOES make your name and work more recognizable in non-scientific or artistic circles. After all, do you really want only paleoartists and art collectors to know what name goes with the painting? Or would you rather put a recognizable mark on it that at least can get associated symbolically with your style and work in the minds of the public? The human mind remembers images better than fonts, it's symbols that rule the world of marketing, and some say, even rule the world.
Now I'm not saying that a brand or a logo will prevent every attempt to reproduce or imitate an artist's work without permission. It's inevitable that someone, in some foreign country somewhere, will post your work on some website or blog without your permission. But what a logo (and an accompanying copyright notice) can do is make it public knowledge that you DO have exclusive ownership of your art and are willing to admit ti to the world - and even if someone reposts it on the internet without your permission, the next circle of poeple who see it on that person's site may be inclined to ask your permission if they see the logo and the copyright, and be less likely to simply copy it all over the web. People instinctively respect or attribute and aura of authority to any official-looking seal or logo more than just a cheaply photoshopped copyright notice in Times font. It's practically hard-wired in our brains. Now the downside it you don't want to completely obscure or deface your own art with a big centrally placed watermark or logo - it may deter outright copying, but it also makes your work less attractive publicly to paying customers or even those interested in using it for non-commercial purposes with permission.
Putting the logo in a corner or somewhere that it does not obviously mar the main image is more visually attractive to the viewer - much like how ancient Chinese painters stamped their red signature seal in the corner (I never figured out why some of those paintings feature multiple seals though... unless multiple artists produced them). However this is more prone to cropping fraud - the thief will simply digitally crop the image to remove the logo. But if someone removes the logo and the copyright by airbrushing them out or by simply cropping the image, you can potentially pursue legal action since they deliberately removed your proof of ownership (this only is feasible if you can document that you have put the logo on ALL your work since you started using it). If your work appears somewhere without your logo, without your permission, this can be additional proof in your favor. Even better is sticking logos in unique places away from the edges where they are not very big but can't be easily removed or cropped without noticeably altering the appearance of your drawing or painting - for example, on a rock or a tree, or even in an empty dinosaur nest or a footprint. Of course for this your logo must be simple, bold, and easily recognizable from a distance - something that Greg Paul's fine-lined charging Triceratops pair isn't really so good at.
Expecting to brand a style alone is a bit of a pipe dream unless it is so unique and so successful that nobody can reproduce it without actually attributing their forgery to you instead of themselves. However, a style combined with a recognizable logo, now that's something more solid. M.C. Escher even converted his initials into a logo, which went on every print he ever made. He was far ahead of his time when it came to branding his work.
M.C. Escher, Man with Cuboid. Wood engraving, 1958. Notice the distinctive "MCE" logo. A lot more recognizable and brandable than a human silhouette or a cursive signature, and what's more, it appears in identical form on practically all of Escher's work.
So I've got a logo now. Do you?
My new, simple, and oddly enough, non-paleo Paleo King logo (I don't plan to limit myself just to paleo-art - and besides, we can't all use images of fossil hammers, recycled JP T. rex skull motifs or raptor claws). Posted for informational purposes only.
My advice to all fellow artists is currently (and it may change in the future) this: Regardless of what part of the world you live in, or what the copyright laws are in your country, invent a logo for yourself (it doesn't even have to be very fancy or even paleo-related) and put it somewhere on all your subsequent work. It's not that hard, acts as a deterrent (at least in countries with strong copyright laws) and can save you a lot of hassle if someone actually doesn't take the hint and rips off your work in any capacity. I don't claim to be a legal expert, but I do see value in branding your work, and by that I mean really branding it, with a unique, repeatably identical, and preferably simple logo no other artist is using, not merely a natural animal pose that is a common scientific convention repeated in the literature for many different animals. We may blast Greg Paul now for his emotional reactions to his situation, but a lot of us are just as unprepared, lacking any logo or real branding, and thus potentially in danger of falling into the same trap.