Guest blog entry by Jacques Rodrigue, George Rodrigue’s son. He currently serves as House Counsel for Rodrigue Studio and Executive Director of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts. He is a graduate of Tulane Law School in New Orleans.
Greetings everyone! Jacques Rodrigue here. Wendy is taking a much-deserved break this week from blogging while on vacation. So, I volunteered to fill in and do a guest blog entry!
Last Wednesday, the Louisiana State University Law School’s Intellectual Property Law Association invited me to give a guest lecture. I spoke to about 100 law students about how we use U.S. Copyright Law to stop people from illegally copying my dad’s artwork.
Additionally, in conjunction with my lecture, LSU Law Students raffled off a Blue Dog print to help buy art supplies for a project that they did with a local Baton Rouge school through the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts. Thank you to all of the students for their support and helping to keep the arts in education! (click photos to enlarge)
(pictured, Jacques Rodrigue lecturing at LSU Law School wearing his "Blue Dog Shoes" that were seized for violating George Rodrigue's copyrights.)
So, what am I going to blog about today? Well, Wendy always does such a great job giving a great “artistic” perspective of what we do. Now, this seems like the perfect time to recap my lecture and let you know about one of the “legal” sides of our business. Protecting copyrights is a very important task that we all deal with on a daily basis.
Don’t worry guys, I am not going to drown you all in legalese, however my dad’s artwork does bring up many unique and interesting legal issues that everyone should enjoy.
First, I made it a point to trace my dad’s entire life in my lecture from growing up in New Iberia, going to art school in Los Angeles, then coming back to Louisiana to visually interpret the history of the Cajuns and finally the origins of the Blue Dog and where the Blue Dog is today.
(George Rodrigue c. 1970 with a typical landscape from his early years as a professional artist)
I wanted these aspiring intellectual property lawyers to understand that all of their future clients (artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers) have an equally important and interesting story. They all have a “life’s work” that they don’t want others to copy because artists don’t want anyone else to wrongfully profit from their creations or harm the integrity of what they originally made.
However, oftentimes artists are intimidated by a confusing legal system and they don’t know what their rights are. Therefore, it is the attorney that must vigilantly protect the artist’s rights so that the artist has a “peace of mind” knowing that the fruits of their labor are safe.
In fact, that is why we have all intellectual property law. It is to provide the right incentives for creative people to put their new ideas on paper so that all of society can benefit from what no one has ever seen and what has never existed before.
So, that is what I do. I protect my dad’s intellectual property rights so he doesn't have to worry about the past. He is able to fully focus on the future in order to take the Blue Dog on an artistic journey that has never been done before.
(pictured, "Swamp Dog #4" a series printed on metal new for 2012)
For example, if we would let anyone make t-shirts and fake paintings the market would be flooded with cheap Blue Dog images. Consequently, clients would no longer see the value in the rare prints and one-of-a-kind paintings bought directly from George Rodrigue.
As you may know, Wendy has said that we don’t license the Blue Dog image. There are no Blue Dog t-shirts, products, lunch boxes, or cartoons. Our only true mass produced item are our nearly 15 books that serve to spread my dad’s artwork to a wider audience in what we think is the “right” way (like our newest revised and updated “The Art of George Rodrigue” new in paperback for 2012).
People from around the world email or call every week for a licensing deal. Oftentimes, they think that with their idea they will be doing us a favor by licensing the Blue Dog for use on their product. They think the extra publicity of the Blue Dog being associated with their brands will make our artwork more valuable.
However, our view is quite the contrary. Though perhaps one day when his artistic legacy is solidified we may entertain other licensing agreements, for now, my dad’s images and artwork are unmistakably his own. If we jumped at every partnership that came along we would run the risk of cheapening what my dad has spent his entire career creating. That is why we rarely partner with other entities unless the project really feels right (like with Xerox and Absolut Vodka).
(pictured, "Absolut Rodrigue" by George Rodrigue)
But, what can we really protect?
Unfortunately, we don’t have exclusive ownership to the idea of a Blue Dog*. Copyrights only give authors protection to their ideas once they have been “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”
Basically, anyone can paint their own blue dog and we can only stop people from making a "Blue Dog" that looks “substantially similar” to George Rodrigue's Blue Dog. In other words, would the average person think that another person’s blue (or green or yellow) dog looks like it is a copy of ours? To do that, you would look at the specific outline of the shape of the dog, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the interior of the ears, the color etc.
In practice, this is actually a pretty easy test for us. We know almost immediately if something is an illegal copy or not. So, when we see an illegal copy out there, we seize it, destroy it, and if it was sold, we collect whatever profits that were made.
(pictured, an illegal Blue Dog papier mache copy seized from a store in the French Quarter, New Orleans.)
Also, important to note is that we actually find out about most copyright infringement from our clients and fans. They are an army of eyes scanning the market that want to either protect their own investments in our work or are just big supporters of artists' rights. We can’t thank all them enough for being our eyes and ears out there!
That finally brings us to the fun part that people are interested in seeing. We then looked at a few examples of infringement over the years.
(pictured, seized "Blue Dog" cell phone cases that were made in China.)
One issue that we deal with constantly are pages cut out of our books** and framed to look like prints that we sell in the gallery. For now, this is our most important issue that we stop anytime that we see in flea markets and on eBay.
We are on pretty solid legal ground to seize these items as "derivative works" because of the very similar facts in the case Mirage Editions, Inc. v. Albuquerque A.R.T. Co.***
These pieces are essentially worthless, yet people pay $30 to over $100 for them because they think they are real hand-signed prints that look big when matted and/or framed. In actuality, they are just printed pictures of signed paintings that have no value. We have taken down literally hundreds of eBay listings and seized thousands of these matted pages over the years.
(pictured, a typical box of one-hundred matted pages cut from books that we seized. These particular cutouts were listed at $30 each)
Thankfully, when we seek to seize these items, whoever made them hands them over without a fight and eBay is also great to take down illegal listings almost immediately.
Next, I touched on the high profile case of when miniature cows were illegally made depicting the Blue Dog image. Originally, my dad made a life-size cow for the Chicago Cow parade and some of their organizers sold miniature cows across the country in Hallmark stores without permission. My dad eventually seized the illegal cows and used them in a display at the New Orleans Museum of Art (full story here).
Also, there are plenty of outright fake paintings that we find around the country. Rarely, a person is actually painting their own Blue Dog copies and trying to make a profit themselves. More commonly, someone unknowingly buys one of these paintings at a thrift store or estate sale and tries to resell them (two of many examples below).
Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I've heard from an unsuspecting heir,
“My Grandma had this painting in her house and we want to know how much it is worth. How rich are we?”
Unfortunately, most times, I have to tell them that Grandma had an illegal painting (like the fake "Blue Suede Shoes" below) and what you have has no value. In addition, you can’t sell it and I need to take it from you because we can't allow fakes to exist in the marketplace.
Finally, the last thing I touched on in my lecture was some very scary infringement. A few years ago, we found a Chinese website that claimed they could paint any Blue Dog painting ever made for about $100. After doing some research, we learned that there are in fact a few villages in China that are full of artists who can copy any painting to sell across the world.
This is scary because oftentimes the Chinese government does not usually recognize foreign intellectual property rights. Luckily, in this case, the website was hosted by an internet service provider owned by Google and we were able to get Google to shut the site down. However, it is pretty scary to not have any idea how many fakes are circulating in China.
(pictured, a fake Blue Dog painting painted in China that we ordered to see how good of a copy they could make. As you can see, the copy is pretty good.)
All in all, I think the lecture went very well. The students seemed really engaged by the things I had to say and show them. Plus, this lecture got me to organize my thoughts for what I had to do the next day.
On Thursday, I served as resident “expert” for the History Channel’s reality show “Cajun Pawn Stars” filmed in Alexandria, Louisiana. I can’t reveal too much about the show that airs this summer, but I had to evaluate a Blue Dog print that someone was trying to sell in the shop.
In my appearance I got to say something that most of these experts on similar reality shows both can’t say and don’t have the authority to say when they evaluate a piece’s authenticity. The producers there really liked having this extra wrinkle in the story.
“Jimmie, I really hope that what I am about to see today is real. Because if it is a fake and it was not made by George Rodrigue . . . I will have no choice but to SEIZE it and DESTROY it!”
(pictured, Jacques Rodrigue with Jimmie “Big Daddy” DeRamus from the Silver Dollar Pawn and Jewelry Center and "Cajun Pawn Stars")
Just another day in the life of a copyright enforcer . . .
Thanks for letting me be your guest blogger this week! I hope now everyone has a new appreciation for the importance of copyright enforcement. Because ultimately, if we did not diligently enforce our rights we would be at risk of losing the protections granted to us by Copyright Law.
Wendy will be back soon! She did blog from Jackson, Wyoming this week for the New Orleans paper Gambit Weekly, in a funny account, linked here-
*Nor do we own the generic words “Blue” and “Dog” under Trademark Law which is outside of the scope of this blog entry even though we do have other protections granted to us through our registered Trademarks
**Please note the difference between a framed page from a book and a framed note card. Unfortunately, the law does not allow us to seize framed note cards.
**Mirage, 856 F.2d 1341 (9th Cir. 1988)