Articles

Artist Continues Battle with Penguin Books over Satire

by Jillian Steinhauer on April 8, 2014

A "legal-anxiety inspired illustration" by Miriam Elia (via miriamelia.co.uk)

A “legal-anxiety inspired illustration” by Miriam Elia (via miriamelia.co.uk)

Miriam Elia, the artist accused of copyright infringement by Penguin UK for her children’s book parody We Go to the Gallery, is auctioning off the remaining 10 copies of her first edition run on eBay. All of the proceeds will help pay Elia’s legal fees, which are mounting in her ongoing battle with Penguin.

We Go to the Gallery riffs on the popular British children’s book series Peter and Jane. In Elia’s spoof, the bright-eyed, well-dressed children visit an art museum with their Mummy and confront the confusion of cross-dressers and large painted vaginas. Penguin UK claims that Elia’s book infringes on the copyright of the Peter and Jane series, but the company has yet to furnish evidence of its ownership of the rights. “Penguin have still not proved they own the copyright,” Elia told Hyperallergic. “I suspect they sold the copyright to the Peter and Jane images years ago. In legal terms, I think all they own is the Ladybird [the imprint that publishes Peter and Jane] trademark and the ‘brand.’”

In the meantime, changes to UK copyright law allowing exceptions for parody will go into effect on June 1. A government impact assessment on the new copyright exception for parody lays out the situation as it currently stands:

British creators of parody works will need to clear the use of copyright content that they wish to base a parody on. This is often a difficult and time-consuming
process. Alternatively, they could take a legal risk and issue the parody without rights clearance. There will be costs associated with legal advice when assessing this risk, and potentially costs of legal action. If the risks are judged to be too high and rights clearance too difficult, time-consuming or expensive, a parody work will not be released, may not be fully exploited or creators may simply not make parody works in the first place.

And offers this rationale for updating the law:

Permitting parody would reduce barriers to the creation of new content and create new opportunities for our comedy industry. It would enhance freedom of expression by the general public and be in tune with the expectations of users of online media. Permitting parody also provides educational benefits, enhancing future creativity and growth.

Elia says she will wait to print the second edition of We Go to the Gallery until after the governmental copyright updates have gone through. On June 1, she’ll begin accepting preorders for the new edition, which will be slightly updated from the original: the Ladybird logo and key (recreations of the Penguin original) that currently grace the front cover will be replaced by the branding of her new “‘Dung beetle’ learning range,” she says, as well as a few other small design changes. Elia is also looking to print a US edition under the aegis of Dick and Jane.

Bidding on the first-edition copies on eBay continues through April 12 — and here’s an added bit of incentive:

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