Asking Permission vs. Begging Forgiveness

By Terri

You’ve probably noticed that when we use someone else’s intellectual property, we make a point of getting official permission from the owner of that IP before we sell prints using it. This is because not only is art theft evil, but all forms of IP theft are evil.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Faith Lehane telling the audience why you shouldn’t do bad things - Because it’s WRONG!

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Faith Lehane telling the audience why you shouldn’t do bad things - Because it’s WRONG!

We are a business. When we make a piece of art based on a book we like, it’s likely that we intend to sell it. It’s wrong to use someone else’s IP to make money without consulting them and making sure they receive proper attribution and monetary recompense. So all of our art based on major works is produced with permission of the IP holders and often we pay a licensing fee for it. All of those pieces began as an email to the author or their agent proposing that we turn their work into art, and how should we compensate them for the use of it. And we have been turned down. In three cases, it was because the books/series we wanted to do art of are in some stage of TV development. This means that the rights to the work are in legal limbo, and permission could not be given to us to use the work. (Another time the author’s staff judged that the author had too much on their plate to contemplate another business proposal; this is what staff are for and we applaud them for doing their job.) This makes us sad, but we respect other people’s intellectual property.

“But what about your Wonder Woman print? Did you get permission for that?” The answer to that is complicated. I did send Warner Bros an email requesting permission to use the logo in an art piece. I never heard back from them. However, since Warner Bros/DC Comics holds the copyright to the logo, no individual creator is being deprived of a piece of the profits. William Moulton Marston (the creator of Wonder Woman) is not being deprived of royalties from our print, nor is Gail Simone (one of the most recent writers of the comic). Moreover, this print is a clear example of transformative work. We have synthesized Proverbs and the Wonder Woman logo in a way that both changes and comments on the original IP.

“That SpaceScape print you did features a quote from Babylon 5. I bet you don’t have permission to use it.” Well, no, we do not have explicit permission to use that quote. We did try and figure out who we should ask, and it turns out that Babylon 5 is something of an orphaned property that no one really wants to acknowledge that they own. We even tweeted at J. Michael Straczynski, but he didn’t respond. The print contains an attribution of the text to Babylon Productions. If someone does come after us, we’ll talk it out then.

“Aha, I found something you don’t even attribute credit to!” If you are referring to either the Police Box Mizrach or the Salute Ketubah, then you are correct, in a way. In both of these cases, we used images that cannot be copyrighted in any way. Though both the British police box and the Priestly Blessing gesture are associated with major media franchises, one is a public utility akin to a mail box or phone booth and the other is a hand gesture that is part of Jewish prayer. Neither of these is subject to copyright. These are also pretty clear fair use cases.

Note - this is not to say there isn’t a place for fan art! We’re firm believers in any fan’s ability to create art based on their favorite fandoms. I’ve seen some AMAZING banner images on various fanfics on AO3 and don’t get me started on some of the stuff I’ve seen on Tumblr. But once you start profiting from the art, there needs to be recompense to the original creator of the IP. Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons I’m working on a proposal to the WSFS Business committee about the art categories. I don’t think what we do is fan art. Even when the art is based from something we didn’t invent in our heads, it’s work produced for sale.

New Art Print: Lady Astronaut Nouveau

Do you remember where you were when you first heard about The Lady Astronaut of Mars? We do. While we can’t send you to the Moon or Mars, we can offer you a gorgeous Art Nouveau print for your wall that we hope will inspire you as much as Dr. Elma York inspires the both of us.


How it Came to Be:

It’s rare that a character grabs both of us in the same way and doesn’t let go. Dr. York is both part of and an exception to that rule. A Jewish protagonist is rare enough for both of us to see. One as well researched and written as Elma York is practically a unicorn. Terri felt the need to tweet at Mary Robinette Kowal while listening to the audiobook:

On the other hand, Elma is solidly Ashkenazi, which leaves Ariela out somewhat as she no longer practices those specific traditions. While there is a mention of the Spanish & Portuguese community of Charleston that resulted in a massive twitter conversation between Ariela and MRK, that’s not enough representation for a community with deep roots in the Southern US that predate the founding of the country. So it’s bittersweet for her, while for Terri it was more than she’d ever seen before.

When discussing authors to approach for more licensed work, Terri brought up approaching Mary Robinette about doing something with these books. Ariela was looking to do more illuminated first pages, and didn’t see how a series set in the 1950’s would work with that aesthetic. Terri pushed, and Ariela conceded that she hadn’t done any Art Nouveau in a while and it would be nice to get back to that. While Ariela was still noodling around with the draft, she found out about the Lady Astronaut fanart contest, and in the middle of the Jewish high holy days Ariela decided that, sure, she was going to try to produce finished painting in less than three weeks in order to meet the contest deadline. It didn’t quite happen, but when we posted the final painting to social media, there were enough inquiries of “Where/when can I buy a print of that?” that we decided to ask MRK about licensing so that we could do a print run.

Needless to say, when Mary Robinette agreed to allow us to sell this print, there was much squeeing. So much squeeing. First of all, the fact that she liked it as much as she did had us fangirling all over the place, let alone allowing us a license to sell the piece. (The signed licensing contract was actually returned during Terri’s brother’s wedding. It is a sign of how excited we both are that it was a worthy interruption of the festivities for Ariela to text Terri about it.)

The circular text is from קדוש לבנה, the blessing of the Sanctification of the Moon, which Jews say once a month when the moon is close to full. It reads:

וְלַלְּבָנָה אָמַר שֶׁתִּתְחַדֵּשׁ עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת לַעֲמוּסֵי בָטֶן שֶׁהֵם עֲתִידִים לְהִתְחַדֵּשׁ כְּמוֹתָה

And of the moon G-d said that it should renew itself as a crown of glory for those born of the womb, for they are destined to recreate themselves just as it does.

This is a limited edition run of just 100 art prints in the 11”x14” size and only 20 in the 16”x20” size. Each print is matted on a black, archival-safe mat and comes ready to hang. The 11”x14” is $55, and the 16”x20” is $85. Ships flat.