Disney shuts down Star Wars tribute art show...

Discussion in 'Lucasfilm Ltd. In-Depth Discussion' started by Praenomen Cognomen, Jun 21, 2013.

  1. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4
    So, this is bad news...

    My wife, Kelly McKernan, is a fairly successful artist who recently contributed a painting of Aayla Secura to Gallery Nucleus' "A Saga in the Stars." The page is now down, but you can see some of the contributions if you Google it. The paintings were never listed for sale online, and I'm not sure whether they were even for sale in the gallery, but word recently got around that Disney sent a cease and desist which caused them to shut down the show. I'd post links if I could, but of course, the gallery probably wasn't allowed to divulge it, and my wife only caught the news through other artists who participated and those who knew the gallery's goings-on... but it was pretty certain.

    Now, before anyone jumps to any conclusions to defend them:
    (1) Art openings at this sort of gallery level (and at any relevant gallery) are not for profit. There is no cover fee, and money is only collected through donations for refreshments and commissions from sales. Like I said, the pieces weren't available for sale online; if they were at all, it was only in the gallery itself.

    (2) There is a difference between "selling fan art" (or selling manufactured prints), and selling individual pieces of original art as part of a tribute show to cover the costs of the artist and gallery. It's free promotion for the franchise, and many, many franchises actually tolerate and appreciate these sorts of efforts by independent artists, and get fan support in kind. It only hurts the franchise to shut them down, and I can't help but think that it wouldn't have happened before the buyout.

    Sorry for being defensive right out of the gate, but some people are inexplicably in support of Disney's rights as a big business, even when it crushes well-meaning artists. This kind of abusive IP policy is going to become a bigger and bigger deal, as creatives turn their support toward the increasingly more viable independent production model. The more often Disney falls on the wrong side of this line, it'll result in less talent willing to throw their hat into the ring with them. And I have to ask, where does it end? At what point do they go after the 501st? Might I remind you of the famous Niemöller quote:

    "First they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me."

    Of course that's melodramatic, but the point remains...
    Last edited by PraenomenCognomen, Jun 21, 2013
  2. Kenneth Morgan Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    May 27, 1999
    star 4
    This reminds me of a question I asked back when the Disney sale first happened: how does the sale affect fan-made materials, like films and stories. In the past, Lucasfilm was tolerant of them, provided the materials were clearly marked as fan-made and not "official", and no profit was involved. However, Disney has been widely known to take a more stringent attitude towards materials it considers unauthorized.

    Does anyone know the official position on this?
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  3. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    The IMDB Blog page doesn't appear to be functioning correctly, but here's the end result of a Google search:

    Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 9.29.29 PM.png

    Charging admission and using somebody else's IP is not legal, like, at all. If anything, LFL's rights were being infringed. Sorry that your wife appears to have unknowingly contributed to this, but LFL was completely right to be pissed.
    Last edited by DarthBoba, Jun 21, 2013
  4. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4
    Umm, perhaps you should read more closely: This show is only referenced in the first line, and the date is clearly May 4th. The line after the pair of "..." about $5 admission is clearly about something else entirely, listed as February 16. And I don't know how many other links you passed to find that one, because it's not coming up in any of my searches. Shows at this gallery (and any of its ilk) do not charge admission.

    Anyway, the ideas about supposed infringement are addressed in my initial post, and they're kind of the point of this post: they're tackling "supposed" infringement, and clearly they're doing it with reckless abandon, not actually checking whether these events are maliciously selling off-brand, mass-manufactured bootleg merchandise, or simply celebrating the franchise.

    You can fall back on the technicalities and say it's their right, even though the demo who buy original artwork from this particular contemporary illustration scene are largely not the same people who buy licensed merchandise, so nobody's taking money out of anybody else's pockets. The big guys are picking on the little guys... little guys who are fans... just because they can. The technicalities of copyright law don't change that. Point is, I'm arguing beyond that argument, about what's actually best for the franchise. They should be clamping down on people who sell loads of unlicensed stuff on eBay, not nonprofit tribute art shows.
    Last edited by PraenomenCognomen, Jun 21, 2013
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  5. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    Yeah, my bad. Either way, I really doubt they've switched between february and may from paid exhibitions to not. To be honest, the biggest single problem with your argument is places like fanfiction.net. There are currently 6,487 stories there with the term "star wars" in them. And Disney hasn't gone after them, nor the fan fiction boards here, or anywhere as far as I know. What are they doing exactly, biding their time? :p

    Edit: My image was the third or so result on Google.
    Last edited by DarthBoba, Jun 21, 2013
  6. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4
    That was an individual artist's blog, though. It's most likely that it was a listing for a different show at different sort of establishment entirely (probably a museum or college show, and unrelated to Nucleus or SW).


    Fans who read/write fanfiction are a pretty different demographic from fans who go to small gallery shows. Free promotion from respected artists and illustrators is nothing to scoff at, considering the (for lack of better term) hipster demographic it can reach... something Disney isn't exactly skilled with. Places like Gallery 1988 generate huge interest in the franchises which they put on shows for; the smartest thing would be to let these galleries do their thing, seeing as nothing is being sold in large quantities.

    And as far as your comparison goes, I again direct you back to the quote in the OP. If nobody holds them accountable, the same laws which you say protect LFL's interests in situations like this could be used against those fans. In the book Using the Force, it mentions the crackdown instigated by George Lucas against hardcore slash fiction, which is totally understandable... but when there's not a morally-conscious artist making the decisions, it becomes about money, and when it becomes about money, the morality goes out the window.

    So, first they came for the etsy shop runners, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't an etsy shop runner. Then they came for the fan artists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a fan artist. Then they came for the fanfiction writers, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a fanfiction writer. Then they came for me (and my hobby, _________), and there was no one left to speak for me.
    Last edited by PraenomenCognomen, Jun 21, 2013
  7. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    I don't see why Disney would be interested in the difference if they're so intent on slash-and-burning independent artists using Star Wars, though? Not to mention that it's easy to take down Internet IP infringement, thanks to the silliness that DCMA is.

    I'm just not seeing the malevolent Disney monster here.
  8. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4
    Well, granted, I think it depends how the office works. I have a feeling it's the job of a drove of low-level paralegals to search this stuff out and report it, so it might not be such a "malevolent Disney monster" as a "mindless Disney machine."

    There's so little money at stake, it's insane; definitely not worth the wage of the legal staff who send the C&D's. Even if the gallery were charging admission (or more likely, a suggested donation, which is a legal form of solicitation), it gets maybe 300 people coming and going over the course of the night, tops. That's $1500 in admission, and that's just the opening... the show runs for two months, free to the public to come in and see. They make a commission on art sales, but most illustration/low-brow fine art galleries barely keep their doors open; this particular one manages because of the attached retail store,which ironically sells licensed Star Wars art books. Most often, they're staffed by the owners themselves, and a few interns... aspiring artists, art writers, etc... and they exist for the love of the medium (and, in this case, the very franchise which comes along and shuts them down).

    In the big picture, it just hurts things, and has no benefit for LFL or Disney. They do it because it's easier than actually researching to see whether it's an honest operation or not.
  9. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 7
    They were earning commissions. That's a profit-making enterprise.
  10. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4
    ^ This statement shows a lack of understanding of the nonprofit/not-for-profit model.

    Nonprofits and not-for-profit businesses still have income to cover their operation costs and pay their employees, and not only that, an establishment can operate as a nonprofit/not-for-profit without having the nonprofit/not-for-profit label, because those labels often have specific zoning requirements, a board structure, and other rules which are impossible to conform to a particular business model. It doesn't mean the people behind that business model are some sort of manipulative, opportunistic art barons. The point is, these are not big businesses sniping Disney's customers; they're people who make very little from these ventures, but do it because they care about art, as well as the franchises promoted by these theme shows.

    If you say "It's the law" when the law's not right, then I'm afraid "It's the law" isn't a very good excuse. Not only is this action by Disney not smart in PR terms, it's also just not right. If licensing fees had to be paid, the show would never happen, because licensing fees are completely prohibitive for anything but mass-produced merchandise and overpriced limited edition collectibles. When you tell a well-meaning artist that they can't make a dime off a single one-of-a-kind piece because it features your IP, you de-value the gesture in itself and undermine its sincerity. This is an abuse of the copyright laws which were instituted to protect artists; ask any of the creative minds involved in Star Wars off-record, and they'll agree with this. It prevents the intelligent, skillful exchange of ideas that art is supposed to stimulate when you say, "You shouldn't paint a version of this character I created; if you do, it's not worth anything."

    I seriously don't understand why so many people stand up for the rich folks who take advantage of obviously-flawed systems and abuse the laws that are supposed to protect.
  11. darklordoftech Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 30, 2012
    star 6
    Introducing the Fugitive Slave Law
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  12. Vthuil Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jan 3, 2013
    star 5
    I don't think this is "evil giant corporation ruthlessly crushing the little guy" so much as it is "ignorant giant corporation unwittingly steamrolling the little guy".
  13. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4

    Which is exactly what I said a few posts ago...
  14. darklordoftech Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 30, 2012
    star 6
    true, but I guess it got buried
  15. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 7
    I've been in commissioned sales for 24 years. Commissions are made on the art right? Well, what do those artists do with those commissions? You can cloud this in vague terms like "people just doing it for the art", but that's just a polite way of saying "artists making money". The gallery might be a non-profit but it sounds like there are commissioned artists selling their items and making commissions.

    That's a very easy way around it.
    Last edited by ShaneP, Jun 24, 2013
  16. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4

    First: I thought you were talking about the gallery commission; technically, it's the artist's sale, and the gallery's commission.

    Second: Yeah, we have piles and piles of money. We swim around in gold bullion like Scrooge McDuck. That's why my wife makes art... for the money.

    [face_shame_on_you]

    Since you're in sales, this might not be something you've given much thought to, but I'd ask you to step back and consider it for a second before firing off another response: money is important to good art for the same reason a wage is important to a hard day's work. Art is given a monetary value as a means of praising an artist's talent in a quantifiable, measurable way, which makes it that much more of a meaningful endorsement when an established artist chooses to depict an existing character for a themed tribute show. Just because profit is made does not mean that art is made for profit. Licensing fees are so high that they would completely prohibit such an endorsement in the form of a single, one-of-a-kind piece made by a lesser-known artist who sells art at reasonable prices. At this level, even the intent of the artists is irrelevant; I doubt any of the pieces in the show were priced at more than $1500, with most down round the $200-$500 range. Besides, once again, I'm not here to debate the technicalities the law, but rather the widespread abuse of it. I genuinely fear anyone with the cold absolutism required to believe that an established artist selling a single piece at his or her going rate because he or she loves Star Wars is the same as a bootlegger producing knockoff action figures and selling them out of the back of a station wagon.
  17. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 7
    But that wasn't your opening argument. Your argument has shifted from not even knowing if the art was for sale online or in the gallery to now art being sold for commissions.

    Making money off of art is great. It's terrific. But things change when you start making money from things that are copyrighted. The whole reason Lucasfilm backed off fan edits of the films themselves for years is because the editors were doing it for fun and weren't selling them. I know.

    Finally, there are many examples of fans creating art here and through the fan community who never accept payment, ever.

    I would suggest if you are an artist and you want to make money off your work, make it an original piece. Don't mess with copyrighted and trademarked items.

    And you have it backwards if you think an artist creating a piece of SW art is great at promoting SW. It's the other way around. Everyone knows what SW is. Most don't know the artist. But if you attach SW to a piece......instant recognition of varying degrees.

    Do originals.
    Last edited by ShaneP, Jun 24, 2013
  18. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4

    I'm not backing off my original argument. I'm supporting it further by saying that, regardless of the show setup, my point remains. Don't mistake a multi-pronged argument for a wavering one. And to be clear, I do know for certain that the art was never for sale online.

    Also, all the pieces involved are original pieces; in this case, they simply involve trademarked characters. I know that's semantics, but it's actually quite insulting to say that a piece with its own style is not original because it features a Twi'lek. Anyway, I get what you mean, and for most of the artists and illustrators involved in the show and most shows at a similar gallery level, including my wife, 99% of the work they create uses original subject matter. That's what gives them greater notoriety, and what lends these shows' validity. Artists are invited to participate in themed tribute shows based on their personal work; we're not talking about people who make fan art trying to outdo other people who make fan art.

    To prove my point about creative support, and to show that you 're missing the point of these kinds of shows, consider this: there was a tribute show for Community, and it wasn't sponsored or cleared by NBC/Universal/Sony, or anyone with a stake in the show. However, the show's creator, Dan Harmon, showed up and interacted with people and showered the whole event with praise and appreciation. It only served to further build the fanbase in support of him and the show, and profit was made on the pieces. The same sort of support from a very fickle "hip" demographic could be maintained much more easily if Disney didn't snipe similar events.

    Also...

    And that's right, to you? That's justified? Just because that's the way its always been, and even if the creatives responsible for Star Wars aren't in support of this kind of strict penalty being placed on well-meaning fans, even if they agree that it's an unfortunate abuse of power by greedy executives, you're not going to question it?

    Because I've got news for you: Star Wars wouldn't exist if it weren't for the very exchange of ideas which major IP holders are now repressing. Star Wars is mythology. Mythology is about continuing to build upon a base by an inclusive mass consensus. You unknowingly made this point already yourself: Everyone knows what Star Wars is... so many people, in fact, that Disney can afford teams of lawyers who send out Cease & Desist letters to everyone, based on the (false) idea that it somehow dilutes the franchise for a few sincere artists to make a little money (of an amount totally insignificant to Disney, which wouldn't even pay those paralegals' wages). To say that this is driven by anything but greed, misdirected though it may be, is incredibly naive.

    To even have to explain this makes me ashamed to be a fan, honestly. Not everything about Star Wars and those who own it is good.
    Last edited by PraenomenCognomen, Jun 24, 2013
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  19. Vthuil Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jan 3, 2013
    star 5
    Well... yeah, actually it is right and justified. Fans do not have an innate right to make for-profit fanwork, even if profit's not their main reason for doing it. If it's allowed, encouraged, or even just tolerated, that's definitely a good thing, but it's a privilege. This does not show respect for the fans, is not a promising sign, and is not what I would do were I running Disney - but to argue that it's immoral of them to not let anyone else make money from their IP is kind of ridiculous.
  20. Robimus Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 6, 2007
    star 5

    Comic Book Conventions, toy shows and even things like theater openings come to mind in their use of the Star Wars IP. Costuming groups like the 501st, or Mandalorian Mercs, advertise their appearances at conventions for photo oppurtunities for fans. People pay to get into these conventions knowing they are going to get to take photos of all sorts of cool Star Wars characters. Yeah, the costumers don't charge them - but the convention does. It is one samll part of the attraction.

    So where does the line get drawn? Could this be an example of Disney starting something with their IP that will be expanded upon? It seems like a slippery slope to go down.

    Yet TF.N, which sells advertising, uses fan art and fan fiction and fan activity in general to attract users to its website - thus getting more people looking at the advertisements, so on. How is it different for a gallery to present Star Wars art and make money from it, than it is for TF.N to present Star Wars art and make money from it?

    Not saying that Disney would ever take the situation to that extreme but I totally get the arguement the OP is making. Where the line in the sand is involving IP use is clearly a muddled, difficult situation.
    PraenomenCognomen likes this.
  21. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4

    But look at he bigger picture here; by the same token, what basis would one have to argue that it is morally right to blindly restrict it? The people making the call are not the creators, but in the employ of people using their power and position to reap its benefits, and to me, that's in opposition to the very human creative spirit which George Lucas drew upon when he sat down to write the first words of the script.

    My point is, "Within one's rights" is not equal to "Morally right." Maybe you don't wanna have that kind of moral discussion, and if so, we're at an impasse, because I also can't really have a discussion about this with someone who isn't willing to question the validity of established systems. That's kinda the whole basis for this.
  22. Vthuil Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jan 3, 2013
    star 5
    If the established system you intend to challenge the validity of is "people should not be able to make money off of something you own the rights to unless you allow them to", then yeah, there's nothing more to discuss, because that's utterly ludicrous from where I'm standing - which, I should note, is as a writer. Yeah, these people were just trying to express their love of Star Wars, and Disney really should have at least tolerated them. But doing away with the entire concept of intellectual property (as you appear to be advertising) is opening the door to unchallengeable plagiarism.
  23. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4

    You're mistaken about my intent. Note the wording: "to blindly restrict it," and the point that it's a studio making the call, not the IP creator. Questioning the validity of a system doesn't mean doing away with it, but preventing its abuse. To take aggressive action against another person without thought or information is morally wrong on a personal level, so why wouldn't it be considered morally wrong on a corporate level? Copyright law is meant to protect creatives, and it's being used to abuse them. It's exactly like the current widespread abuse of patent law, which allows predators to register vague, unimplemented ideas and sue the inventors who implement them (stuff like patenting "online software updates" in 1992 before it was even viable, without even any code samples; see last week's This American Life podcast), and which allow major corporations to buy up new inventions which would undermine their products.

    I'm a writer as well. There are lots of writers, everywhere. The people I'm defending my position against are the ones who say "It's within Disney's rights," as if that's enough to make something morally right. It's only slightly better to say, "Well, big corporations, that's how it is, there's nothing you can do," because I think that sort of micro-nihilism is actually just a way of letting everyone else do all the work of affecting change.

    By the way, many people who support this kind of action by Disney like to say they think it's fine that "Lucasfilm" makes these calls, but the cease & desist did not come from Lucasfilm... it came from Disney.
    Last edited by PraenomenCognomen, Jun 25, 2013
  24. LunarMoth Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    star 4
    Just to address the "The law is the law" commentary.

    Very simply, the laws that allow Disney to do this are the same laws that would protect you if Disney started selling your stuff. They are there for a reason, and it makes no difference if you are a big company or the little guy.

    As far as I can see, this was promoted as a Star Wars themed event, which is likely what really what caused them to have issue, not the paintings. Had this been a "Sci-Fi Art Show" things may have been different. There are plenty of artists who sell paintings and sculptures and such of characters they didn't create, and never have a problem. And there are a number of reasons for that.

    Also, depending on the circumstance, it makes no difference if your are making money or not as to whether or not you are in violation of copyrights or trademarks.

    Most people who don't deal with IP rights don't understand how it works, and what causes problems vs. what doesn't. I would think that the promoter of this show is probably in that group, even if you would assume that in their position they would know how it worked.
    Last edited by LunarMoth, Jun 26, 2013
  25. Praenomen Cognomen Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 24, 2013
    star 4
    I get that they do serve to protect artists as well, but my overall point is that as long as they can be used against them, we should constantly be moving to fix them.

    These kinds of unofficial tributes are also becoming that much more of a common thing, and people in general seem to understand what is and isn't official. It's getting to the point where most organizers don't even need to know the details of IP rights, because stuff like this is harmless and often treated with appreciation. Morals aside, if Disney doesn't get with the program, I'm afraid they're gonna face some consequences. It just sucks to see Star Wars be dragged into that too.