Copyright Issues – what’s in a name?

Plenty – and on this theme a couple of things bother me at the moment, seeming to be on the very edge of being copyright issues.

Firstly, today I went onto another quilter’s blog and found the writer had posted a pic of a non traditional quilt top she had just made for her group’s “Gees Bend Challenge” For those who are in tune with the quilt world just now it is well known that a group of quilters from the very poor, isolated, southern Alabama township of Gees Bend are currently in the news. Their utilitarian quilts were ‘discovered’ a few years ago by an agent who introduced them to the art world which has gone crazy about them – books have been published, exhibitions are touring, coffee mugs, other souvenirs and nick nacks produced for sale; several law suits are now out there based over alleged agreements, or lack of them and other misunderstandings behind the current situation in which most of the quilters in that town claim they have had almost no financial/material benefit from all this attention. All the while big bucks are being paid for some of their works to intermedaries belonging to a certain family claiming to be acting as their agents, and also claiming to be working to bring about improvements in the lives of these quilters in this community. sounding rather paternalistic, too – but like most people, I really don’t know the facts behind it all, and the tangle will take quite a while to unravel in the US courts. What really bothered me that is that the name of this town/group has been used by a quiltgroup (on the other side of the world, no less) for a challenge that could just as easily and much more properly been called something like an” Improvisational Piecing Challenge”.

And the other thing that has always bugged me is how some people use the names of other (usually deceased) artists in the titles of their own works. Quilters especially seem to freely do this, with particular favs being Klimt, Klee and Huntderwasser (sorry H – not sure of the spelling of your name – forgive me) If you are claiming to be producing original work not copying anyone else’s designs, you may neverthless recognise that a particular artist or school of artists had some degree of influence in that work – and, let’s face it, we are all influenced by what is around us, and that includes all we experience in Life. If an influence is significant we should acknowledge it in statements or interviews; but to use someone’s actual name in the title of your (own?)work IMHO is just sleezy, and further, bone lazy. It has always been my contention that the best artist’s statement is a carefully chosen, apt title, which then leads the viewer into the work and encourages that viewer to engage with the work on personal terms that will vary from viewer to viewer. Yep, I’m picky.

Traditional and contemporary quiltmakers and textile artists still have a long way to go to get the hang of what copyright really means.

July 29th: below follows a series of exchanges between myself and two readers in which I feel the whole point of my post was missed, and remind anyone reading this that my first sentence refers to what IMHO are a couple of issues “on the very edge of copyright issues” – not that they are copyright violations. My intention was only to pose food for thought, and although IMHO the exchanges became a bit silly, and I became over pedantic perhaps – can’t resist it – nevertheless I have not removed or barred any comments, theirs or mine, being strongly pro free speech and anti most censorship. And the phrase “sleazy and just bone lazy” may have come across too strongly – water that down as you like, I still think it is a regrettable practice no matter how widespread.

9 Responses to “Copyright Issues – what’s in a name?”

  1. teri springer says:

    Alison, While I wholeheartedly support your right to your opinion, I find your attack on the quilter’s doing the Gee’s Bend challenge and those who use names of artists in their quilt titles very passive-aggressive. If you are going to attack or critisize someone, at least have the guts to name names. I think Dijanne and Monica deserve the opportunity to respond to your attacks if they so choose.


  2. solje says:

    I am trying to understand this, and where the copyright is and what variations can be used in titles, etc. Because in the post below, you discuss a title of “Sleepless in Perth WA” which could very well be a variation on the movie title, or something else.

    Using titles in work goes beyond quilters… artists and authors, horticulturists even, come to mind in which I have found inspiration given by a named individual. This is to give the reader/viewer insight of what to expect in a theme as well as some want to show honor to an individual or group–not meant as a sleezy tactic to stomp on copyright.

  3. Alison Schwabe says:

    Teri:- Guts? No, to me it would seem more offensive and quite unfair to single out any one person or group, since the practice is so widespread. The blogger who triggered my comment did not have either of the names you mentioned.

    Solje: the heading of my april post you refer to is a standard everyday English phrase describing the state of being wide-awake, to which I added the name of the place where I was at the time I wrote it. People are sleepless in countless different places all over the world at any one time – there is no copyright violation in that statement. The point I made in this current post was about using other Well Known Artists’ Names in the title of a work that you yourself have done – it does seem to me to be using that name in such a way that implies some positive beneficial connection where none exists. It’s unlikely I will ever be famous enough to attract that kind of acknowledgement, but I would not welcome my name used in that way.

  4. solje says:

    My point is, there are roses and movies that hold the name of famous people within it–movies in which the named is not even in but rather is the inspiration for the movie. I don’t understand why it is in your words a copyright violation to use the name of an individual that is not slanderous? Your given name is not copyrightable. If the movie or art content is slanderous to the name that is within the title, then yes, there is a case for a lawsuit–but again, this is not a copyright offense.

    And frankly, yes people are “sleepless” around the world, yet it was never used so freely before the movie came out.

  5. solje says:

    I need to follow up with reading up on Trademark law (if a given name has been registered) and Trademark Dilution if future works of others harmed (slandered) the original Trademark holder.

  6. Alison Schwabe says:

    Solje – I don’t know where your notions of slander came from. I think you could do well to read up on ‘copyright’.

  7. solje says:

    it was an example of when action can happen, nothing more. and I will leave well enough alone at this point, I’ve read plenty (perhaps US Trademark issues are different than Aus.). I promise to never use your name for inspiration in my projects.

  8. teri springer says:

    I think the point is, your use of the phrase “Sleepless in….” is clearly a reference to the movie and seems to contradict your stand on issues regarding copyright. It is even different than the groups use of the name “Gee’s Bend” in the “Gee’s Bend Challenge” since, in the challenge it is made very clear that the point is to be inspired by the GB quilts, not copy them.


  9. Alison Schwabe says:

    If my phrase reminds anyone of a previous experience(movie)so be it. Lots of things remind me of movies and other experiences. I was wide awake in Perth W.Australia. My heading used the most appropriate single word in our language to describe my physical condition, and I referred to its likely cause in the first sentence of a post about a pair of textile pieces I made decades ago.

    Te me the use of an Actual Person’s Name or the Name Of A Group in a title of something, or to name a rose, a ship, a pavilion, a hospital wing, a library, a memorial drive, a sports oval etc etc is just fine as long as permission has been sought and granted by the named person, his family or estate. It’s the right thing to do – so why do quilters especially but also many other artists feel free do exactly this within titles of their own works or challenges?

    I think it is food for thought.

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