I found recent news of an on going dispute between Robert Wyland and the California Coastal Commission over the use of his whale tail license plate design quite interesting. I actually have this license plate on my car and never knew it was a Robert Wyland design. In short Wyland is asking that 20% of future revenue be donated to his art foundation and the California Coastal Commission is not interested.
The licensing arrangement was apparently a handshake deal and Wyland is arguing that it was never intended to last forever. I have mixed feelings about this dispute. The California Coastal Commission has been using the design for the license plate (its intended purpose), yet how could you relinquish the rights to an image on a handshake deal as an artist in this day and age.
For up and coming photographers the argument against Wyland is something commonly heard:
“For its part, the commission has reminded the artist that the Wyland brand and foundation have benefited from the goodwill and free publicity from the plates which also feature his signature. The plate appears on the commission’s Web site, press releases for the plate and DMV material that are mailed to millions of California drivers.
On the flipside Wyland argues:
“After allowing the state to use his intellectual property rent free for 14 years, Wyland said his foundation is entitled to an annual contribution. The alternative is the state gets nothing.
“I would just say it would be like Picasso lending one of his pieces for a license plate and them saying we’re not donating to the Picasso Foundation,” said Wyland, an official artist for the United States Olympic Team for the 2008 Games. “They’re saying ‘We can get anyone to paint a Picasso.’ Well you could, but it wouldn’t be a Picasso.””
I can see both sides of this argument and really wonder why it took Wyland 14 years to suddenly realize that he should get some revenue off his donation. I have to really scratch my head why a license agreement wasn’t drafted and signed to avoid this kind of mess in the first place. On the flipside I hardly think the California Coastal Commission is doing as much as they claim to promote his artwork and contribution. I checked the California Coastal Commission web site and found two references to his name, but no link to his his web site or the web site of his art organization.
So who is to blame in this situation? You make the call… let me know how you interpret this mess.
Read the latest on this battle in this San Francisco Chronicle article:
Artist in spat over Calif license plate royalties
[tags]Robert Wyland, California Coastal Commission, licensing[/tags]