Now that the whole Jay Maisel / Some Kind of Bloop controversy has died down a bit I can't help but reflect a little on the matter and wonder if we weren't just a little bit unfair to Jay. As I pointed out in my previous post on the matter, what upset people so much was the seeming inequality of the matter, with a rich photographer on one side and a poor designer on the other. Surely though, copyright protection should be equally applied to whoever you are. Would people have been so outraged if Jay was a poor student or amateur and the artwork for "some kind of bloop" was done by a big record label? I suspect the outrage would have been directed at the record label. In fact, a very similar case occurred quite recently. Amateur photographer Chris Divers took an image of an old e-type Jag and posted it on his flickr page. It later turned up on a GAP t-shirt in a stylized form, but it was obviously the same image. Unsurprisingly the online community rallied behind Chris and expressed outrage and dismay at GAP for violating the guy's copyright. So how then is this different from what happened in the Jay Maisel case.
It's very easy to paint Jay as a greedy billionaire living in his mansion, because all the blogs reporting on it never thought for a second to try and seek the other side of the story. They were judge, jury and executioner without properly even examining the facts. People were quick to point out that Jay owns a prime piece of real estate in New York, a 70 room former bank thought to be worth millions. This definitely goes towards the bond villan-esque portrayal of the man that had been put forward by several web commentators. What they failed to report on was the fact that he bought the former bank in the 60's for a paltry $102,000 an that he regularly uses half the rooms in the building to hold workshops to teach budding photographers, while more of the building is used for studio space.
Which brings us back to the case at hand. I've been thinking a lot about it recently, partly because I'm a designer myself, and as much as I want to feel bad for Andy Baio, it was something he shouldn't have done. I know I would never have done it without getting permission, and none of the designers I know would have either. It's design 101. If it was for a private piece for your portfolio, then fine, but to sell it on a commercial product, even if you are not making any money form it, you just don't do that. Like I said, I feel for the guy, but as a (web) designer himself, he really should have known better.
At the end of the day I think what I'm trying to say is that people have been somewhat hypocritical vilifying Jay when many of the same people were outraged when Gap stole Chris Divers work. I still think the settlement was un-necessarily harsh, but I think the debate around the issue was a little too one-sided, and hey, I'm as guilty of that as the next guy.
Some more reading on the matter: