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Last December, artist and comedian Miriam Elia raised funds on Kickstarter to publish the first edition of a satirical book she had written with her brother, Ezra. Called We Go to the Gallery, the book is a riff on what’s popularly known in the UK as the Peter and Jane series — early readers that have been published by the Penguin UK imprint Ladybird Books since the 1960s. The Peter and Jane books show the siblings of the same names, plus their Mummy, Daddy, and dog, living out perfectly average, harmless situations in order to teach kids key words and the process of reading. In Elia’s book, an “uncannily brilliant” re-creation of the originals, the family instead goes to an art gallery, where things go hilariously off the rails. In one scenario, Peter smiles awkwardly in front of a photograph of a man smoking a cigarette and wearing a dress. “The man is a woman. The woman is a man. Peter is excited. Peter is confused. Peter doesn’t know what he wants,” says the accompanying text. (New words to learn: man, woman, confused.)
Elia launched We Go to the Gallery at Cobb Gallery last month, and since then she’s sold most of her first edition of 1,000 copies. But shortly after the release, she received a cease-and-desist letter from Penguin UK (despite the fact that Penguin USA previously published another book by her). Penguin claims that Elia is infringing on their copyright, and they’ve also staked a moral claim against the “adult content” in the book. They’ve said that she may sell enough copies to cover any outstanding production costs, but after that they want her to destroy the rest of the books. They’ve even threatened/offered to do the destroying for her.
“At this moment, a shadow looms over this book, and my right to publish it. It is the shadow of a vast flightless seabird, fed fat on fish, krill, squid, and the creative integrity of struggling young artists such as myself. Penguin books are after my blood,” Elia wrote to Hyperallergic, in a joint statement with her brother, Ezra. She continues:
We Go to the Gallery is in danger. Penguin mean to pulp it, to sue me, and to prevent it from ever entering the public realm again. They do so on the pretext that it pollutes the idyllic brand of Ladybird books, and that I have infringed copyright on images they own. Yet they are still to prove that they own any such copyright, and the Ladybird brand is so remote from my audience that no child stands in any danger of an accidental corruption. Their argument is now fundamentally moral, not legal, and as such is an act of senseless and repressive censorship. Neither am I the first artist that they have persecuted, on similar grounds.
Part of the legal tangle that Elia faces is that British copyright law does not currently include a fair use exception that covers satire. As Elia pointed out in conversations with Hyperallergic, changes to the law allowing use of copyrighted material for parody purposes are in the works in the UK, possibly going into effect as soon as next month, but it’s not a done deal. In the meantime, she’s working to defend herself (and has received many letters of support, including one from the son of a former CEO of Penguin), and the joint statement explains:
This article is a message to let Penguin know that I will not bend to their depravity. If they succeed, then all the satirical tradition of modern art, which is rich with the joyful subversion of pop cultural icons and brands from Picasso to Lichtenstein, lurks in thrall to the whims of corporate enterprise, and its army of devoted lawyers. They will never find the books they seek to pulp, and if they take me to court, I will fight them, however long the battle takes. But I am in need of your help. If you like the work and wish to see it properly published, please follow my website, or email me at email@example.com. I may have to put a ‘fighting fund’ together, to make sure I can pay the legal costs required of me.
Elia still has a number of copies of We Go to the Gallery left, but they’re not for sale at the moment. So, courtesy of the artist, we’re publishing some of our favorite pages here. Prepare to grapple with the dark and soul-twisting depravity that is modern and contemporary art.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…