PetaPixel

Artist Defends Photoshop Plug-In After Lawsuit Threat by Famous Photog

Young artist Scott Blake‘s article about his altercation with photographer and painter Chuck Close starts with a simple question: “When one of the world’s richest living artists orders you to stop making art, you do it. Or do you?” It’s been two years since Close, who is referred to in the article as “the wealthy bully,” put a stop to Blake’s Chuck Close Photoshop plug-in by threatening a lawsuit, and Blake still hasn’t managed to put what he sees as the injustice of the whole situation behind him. Hence, his article.

The article, which originally appeared in Hyperallergic, is tantamount to an open letter to Close himself. In it Blake discusses how he believes his plug-in (which imitated Close’s hand-made photo mosaic style) falls under fair use, but that he doesn’t have the resources to defend his case in court against one of the richest artists on the planet.

I never intended to rip off Chuck Close, so when he emailed me in November 2010 threatening legal action, I did exactly what he said and took my filter offline immediately. Still, I feel obligated to point out that Close is the 14th richest living artist, worth a staggering $25 million. I really don’t think any work I make is going to “jeopardize” his career or his livelihood.

In truth, the first email he received from Close was in all caps, threatening lawsuit and stating in no uncertain terms that he did not want to be associated with this project. Blake, horrified to have received such an upsetting e-mail from one of his icons, replied.

I have attempted to get in touch with you. I think your art is great. I drove 10 hours to see your exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum in 1998 and was blown away. I wish we had met under better circumstances. I understand you do not want me to continue my Free Chuck Close Filter, but I would like the opportunity to talk with you before you take any legal action. I believe my website is not copying your art, but rather is a logical extension of the creative process. Please consider talking with me before you make legal decision, from one artist to another.

Close wrote back:

Even if your motives are not bad, I still do not want my work trivialized. I must fight you because if I know of your project, and do nothing to exercise my legal rights, that will put me in a position where I can’t fight the next, even more egregious usage of my copyrighted image and use of my name. It may be an amusing project and many people might like it, but it is MY art that is trivialized, MY career you are jeopardizing, MY legacy, which I have to think about for my children, and MY livelihood. I must fight to protect it. I hope you will realize the harm you are doing me and my work that you claim you admire and voluntarily shut down the site so as to avoid a law-suit.

The full article is certainly worth reading, and includes the entire conversation between Blake and Close, ending with Close’s good natured invite that Blake might come by his studio and “say hello.” Blake never made that trip, but to this day still claims fair use and plans to somehow release his filter 100 years after Close has died and no further legal dispute might arise.

Obviously Blake believes he is in the right and that Close needs to be willing to “pass the torch to the next generation.” The conclusions one draws from the interchange and the article, however, are entirely subjective. Is this really the wealthy bully vs the fledgeling artist? Or is Blake’s work less “appropriation” and more copyright infringement? Check out the full article and give us your take on the whole situation in the comments below.

My Chuck Close problem (via Boing Boing)


 
  • https://twitter.com/#!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    with the amount of filters and plug-ins available to make any photo into something similar to say.. Andy Warhol-esque work I would imagine that if Blake were taken to court he would quite easily win. Close needs to chill out.

  • Dave

    Blake was at fault in this circumstance. Close handled the situation perfectly.

  • http://twitter.com/HappyTinfoilCat Happy Tinfoil Cat

    Nothing wrong with the filter other than the lack of originality of copying another artist’s style. The big problem comes when using someone another person’s name to sell your product. Unless the ‘bully’ artist endorses and gets royalties from the filter there is no question this is a trademark violation. Perhaps tweaking the filter to generate something original and not grabbing on to the tailcoat of someone else would be a better way to go. And yes, making a filter absolutely trivializes the Close’s work since anyone can touch a button to generate similar work.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/aburtch Anson Burtch

    I’m no expert, but the plug-in seems to be a pretty blatant rip-off of a particular artist’s style. So why would Close be at fault for protecting his intellectual property? Sure he could have handled it better, but he seems to have grounds for protecting his work even if he is rich.

  • http://twitter.com/ColDuke Col Duke Lacrosse

    Change the name of it? Seems like he has a point…in needing to challenge it before the next challenger arises. One that may be a more direct ripoff.

  • http://twitter.com/Mike_Philippens Mike Philippens™

    What can we say…another ‘artist’ afraid of the digital age. Sad tosser. Such a shame that the wealthy sob practices Scientology methods with legal action threats. There are zillions of filters for Photoshop and even programs that do the same (but are not called after the guy). Is a Photoshop filter for a Warhol effect also illegal?
    Can the guy honestly say he invented the method and therefore owns this? I think he’s bluffing.

  • http://twitter.com/dealspam Deal Spam

    I say rename it, and release it open source… style and technique are not copy writable.

  • http://twitter.com/sg1245335 Samuel

    Surely its not just me that thinks Close totally over reacted, for an artist who’s work sells for $150,000 saying to a person who considers them an idol “MY art that is trivialized, MY career you are jeopardizing, MY legacy” is frankly making him sound crazy, egomanical and a bit of a dick. Blake wasn’t making thousands off this plugin, he didnt even charge. Its rude, over the top and just bad PR.

  • Chris

    If you read the article, it’s not just a Close-style effect. He’s using actual scans of Close’s handmade tiles. So no, a Warhol-effect filter isn’t illegal. One that uses actual Warhol soup cans would be more questionable.

  • wickerprints

    The legal issues are very clear, and Blake doesn’t do himself any favors by labeling Chuck Close a “wealthy bully.” Blake absolutely overstepped a legal boundary by naming the filter after Chuck Close, thereby associating Blake’s work product with Mr. Close without his consent, and violating Close’s rights to the use of his name. That Mr. Blake doesn’t appreciate or understand this simple fact, yet complains about his “fair use” and “free expression” undermines his entire case. The mere question of naming doesn’t even TOUCH the question of copyright or artistic appropriation or fair use.

    As it pertains to the actual artistic content, Blake has another hurdle in that any component comprising a characteristic aesthetic element of Mr. Close’s work that is copied into the plug-in could constitute an infringement. The law is somewhat more subjective on this matter–it depends on what was copied, in what sense, how much, and whether the extent is balanced out by any modifications or original creative addition by Mr. Blake. There are numerous other issues at play, but the likeness to Mr. Close’s work, in conjunction with the unauthorized use of his name, is likely to spell disaster for Blake’s case.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robbycornish Robby Cornish

    so where can i download this plugin?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mstauch1 Michael Stauch

    Every artist strives to develop his or her own style. The purpose of the art is to inspire the next artist. Art is meant to get people to appreciate some that they normally wouldn’t or to look at things in a different perspective. The greatest compliment to be paid to an artist is for someone to mimic his or her style. Isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery. Close needs to get a clue and back off.

  • branden rio

    Thank you for the very well-reasoned response

  • http://twitter.com/intensitystudio Antonio Carrasco

    He should not have named it after Chuck Close. No one wants some product to have their name on it if they had no involvement in it.

  • rtfe

    “Warhol soup cans” are Campbells’s soup cans. Warhol is an entirely different concept with different limitations and allowances.

  • rtfe

    steal the ideas, not mimic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Utterback/500054477 Brian Utterback

    Trademark is a defend or lose proposition, so Close has to fight the use of his name in this circumstance, or “in the style of Check Close” can become generic, usable by anyone for anything. Copyright is entirely at the discretion of the copyright owner, so Close could give permission to use the tiles if he choose to, but he is under no obligation to do so. But if the tiles are replaced with different images and his name is removed from the plugin then it is no longer a violation of copyright or trademark. If Close still feels it trivializes his art, then that just shows you how little he thinks of the creativity that goes into his own art work.

  • wickerprints

    All questions of artistic appropriation aside, and irrespective of which party or parties are behaving in a hostile manner, the trademark issue is absolutely clear cut. Blake’s choice to name the filter after Mr. Close violates the latter’s right in deciding what products or services should receive such endorsement.

    Consider an analogy, in which an entrepreneur decides to dig through Britney Spears’ trash to gain insight on her dietary habits. He then uses this information to develop and market a new diet regimen and call it “the Britney Spears diet” in order to leverage her celebrity–even though she has not endorsed such a product. That is very clearly illegal, and the entrepreneur cannot claim a defense that because he “researched” what she ate, such a name is factually accurate. Similarly, Mr. Blake cannot claim that because he made a derivative work from content created by Chuck Close, that he is entitled to label his process “the Chuck Close filter,” because such a labeling presumes some level of legal partnership or endorsement of that product.

    In a sense, trademark is a counterpart to copyright–instead of saying who owns a work, it says who cannot falsely associate their work to you. Without trademark laws, companies would have no legal recourse against counterfeiters who sell knock-offs and thereby threaten their brand.

  • http://twitter.com/RICKYM51 Comp. Photography

    People who use Apple know their music app. called garageband, vis loops, you can create your own music. Long story short, I used it, made a nice song, put it on an app called “Shazam”, my song was ID’d by a south American artist, beautiful piano work.
    Now (and then) I knew it was not my work. Sure, we can drill down, who owns the color red or the note “C”, the elements of art but we know if we are original or not. Yes, my Apple loops were legal but I knew I was kidding myself.

  • whymar

    Silly.

    Anybody mildly technology-literate can easily – easily – produce a chuck close style portrait using photoshop and any mosaic software. Not sure why we need a special plug-in for that and also not sure where the artistic merit for creating such a plug-in is.

  • Gregory

    What does Chuck Close’s wealth have to do with the situation. Seems like Blake is trying to “pity me” bully Chuck Close.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.godek Michael Godek

    look i get the whole you’re ripping off my art….but when you are at that level, when you are that well recognized, when people WANT to do things like you….YOU will always be the original. The blurred line of copyright infringement now-a-days can be upsetting and unsettling….but more often than not it has proven to bring people further success rather then stifling their image. It’s sad that someone worth millions is using “livelihood” as an excuse….b/c that’s all it is….and excuse to be the ONLY one who does what he does.

    When you’re an artist, you own everything you do, but at the same time you own nothing you do. That’s the life you choose when you’re an artist.

  • photographer

    Why do these artist take photographers work? Do they not have their own vision? Do free expression on your own photographs, bad ide to do so on other’s work. Wasn’t Sheperd Fairey a lesson? Photographers have bills to pay, when you steal a photograph from a photographer, you are stealing from their paycheck and livihood. So all those who advocate fair use and free expression, they can first surrender their paycheck, then we can have real a discussion what is fair use.

  • Guest

    Without any panegyrical intentions, Chuck Close is undoubtfully a great artist and one of may faves: one who shouldn’t have anything to get ennoyed or to be afraid of, in being emulated and extimated by a “common person” who considere him a genius (nay, he should be just proud of it). An artist being so worldwide much appreciated and famous (and earning already so much that he shouldn’t be afraid for his own future or the one of his own familiars), should avoid to be mistook as a “grudging antipathic” for a problem which finally doesn’t exist.

    First off, no damage could come to a solid artist like him, from a bunch of bitscodes which output remains in the realm of the digital PRINTING: his masterpieces remains his masterpieces, already well recognized and registered. Period.

    Second, no “triviality” in reproducing not yet a precise painting, but applying a method which couldn’t be considered an exclusive copyright issue (methods and techniques cannot be copyrighted, for obvious reasons), specially if the technique itself it’s automatically prone to being reproduced digitally: no triviality in making a copy of e. g. a De Chirico’s painting (also ’cause the brush strokes cannot be exactly reproduced), though should be triviality in making any paint with any subject made of a technique which could be intended as perfectly reproductible just for the fact that it is almost “modular”? Close’ intuition are perfectly fitting in the realm of digital art,
    although being projected in the one of “classical” brush painting. Had had Close copyrighted the modules (which could be treated as a characterizing element, thus eventually copyrightable in the same way as his paintings), we had understood that there was a clear and actual infringement: but only if Blake had implemente those precise modules to be reproduced by his algorythms. More, it had been the case just if Blake had used some modules which was scannerized from the actual Close’s paintings: which is not either.

    Second, we live in the age of almost complete reproductibility (except from the unique stroking of oil or other colors’ painting…): so, are we (during his lifelong) inhibited from painting or printing anything somewhat similar to Close’s stuff, just ’cause its methods/techniques were his “hallmark”? Well, PhotoMosaic and “ASCII art” was “invented” by Leon Harmon & C. two decades before Close begun to even think about it: had Harmon “copyrighted” his works and techniques, should you think that we couldn’t produce any ASCII/PM art or that Close were feeling inhibited from adapt it to his artistic conception? I think it would be ludicrous the contrary.
    Is Close aware of the “first law of creativity”, that is in any human pragmatic activity there’s nothing absolutely original, but we just replicate things from nature and made “from others” who preceded us? Is he aware, as Picasso said, that “mediocres copy, geniuses steal”? Or does he think to be a unique case in the history of arts?

    I see here many people acting as “digital lawyers” in his behalf: clear, I guess it’s better to stick to defend a famous guy, i know. It is “easier” to appear to be “on the side of legality”: but which legality indeed? Indeed, I don’t find any faults in Blake’s behavior, except from he had had been just less “provoking” in naming his site and plug-in: but I guess that’s nothing that shouldn’t involve a so drastical reply from Close, if only the latter had had a more down-to-earth opinion of himself. He had rather said “just change the title of both ‘em”, that’s all. Instead of “Chuck Close filter”, a “filter which enables to compose photomosaics, some like the ones of Chuck Close”.

    Simply put, acting the other way, Close has lost a fan (ok: it shouldn’t be a problem for him, if he would play the cynic in saying that there remain many others ahead…) and specially the occasion to appear, in the age of reproduction, a staple for a grant of forwardness and progress. And, which is worse, many of us has lost the ability to push a button and feel the pleasure to see something SIMILAR to his painting front of ou desks. Be clear: I never used this plugin (unfortunately), but the eventuality had had been nice, if only I hadn’t been both a graphic and a painter which isn’t keen to envy the neighbor, though I can admire what others are able to craft, any way it would be.

    Instead of a pacific composition of the “quarrel”, now we have a strange case for a denial ’cause of an alleged “copyright infringement” in digital art: and a weird one. One which risks to open a series of similar cases, maiming the realm of creativity and progress of art, eventually forever. And this is trivial indeed.

    Thanks for the attention and sorry for my english: it is not “easily reproducible”.

  • biagio catalano

    Without any panegyrical intentions, Chuck Close is undoubtfully a great artist and one of may faves: one who shouldn’t have anything to get ennoyed or to be afraid of, in being emulated and extimated by a “common person” who considere him a genius (nay, he should be just proud of it). An artist being so worldwide much appreciated and famous (and earning already so much that he shouldn’t be afraid anymore for his own future or the one of his own familiars), should avoid to be mistook as a “grudging antipathic” for a problem which finally doesn’t exist.
    I could understand that a person constrained in a wheelchair could feel constantly prone to see a way too plumbeous side of life; but others have a life too. Nay, in certain cases, tou should feel emotive if others pay hommage to you ’cause they considere you a genius, any way it happens (specially if you are a solidly established artist who needs no more money or quarrels).

    First off, no damage could come to a solid artist like him, from a bunch of bitcodes whose output remains in the realm of the digital PRINTING: his masterpieces remains his masterpieces, already well recognized and registered. Period.

    Second, no “triviality” in reproducing not yet a precise painting, but applying a method which couldn’t be considered an exclusive copyright issue (methods and techniques cannot be copyrighted, for obvious reasons), specially if the technique itself it’s automatically prone to being reproduced digitally. No triviality in making a copy of e. g. a De Chirico’s painting (also ’cause the brush strokes cannot be perfectly reproduced), though should be triviality in making any paint with any subject made of a technique which could be meant as perfectly reproductible just for the fact that it is almost “modular”?
    Had had Close copyrighted the modules (which could be treated as a characterizing element, thus eventually copyrightable in the same way as his paintings), we had understood that there were a clear and actual infringement: but only if Blake had implemente those exact modules to be reproduced by his algorythms. More, it had been the case just if Blake had used some modules which was scannerized from the actual Close’s paintings: which is not either.

    Second, we live in the age of almost complete reproducibility (except from the unique stroking of oil or other colors’ painting, dicto…): so, are we (during Close’s lifelong or even after, if his progeny will protract his legal legacy) inhibited from painting or printing anything somewhat similar to Close’s stuff, just ’cause its methods/techniques were his “hallmark”? Well, we are all aware that PhotoMosaic and “ASCII art” was “invented” by Leon Harmon & C. two decades before Close begun to even think about it: had Harmon “copyrighted” his works and techniques, should you think that we couldn’t produce any ASCII/PM art or that Close were feeling inhibited from adapt it to his artistic conception? I think it would be ludicrous the contrary.
    I guess that Close’s aware of the “first law of creativity”, that is in any human pragmatic activity there’s nothing absolutely original, but we just replicate things from nature and made “from others” who preceded us. He’s surely aware, as Picasso himself said, that “mediocres copy, geniuses steal”. Or does he think to be a unique case in the history of arts?

    I see here many people acting as “digital lawyers” in his behalf: clear, I guess it’s better to stick to defend a famous guy, i know. It is “easier” to appear to be “on the side of legality”: but which legality indeed? Indeed, I don’t find any faults in Blake’s behavior, except from he had had been just way less “provoking” in naming his site and plug-in: but I guess that’s nothing that shouldn’t involve a so drastical reply from Close, if only the latter had had a more down-to-earth opinion of himself. He had rather said “just change the title of both ‘em”, that’s all. Instead of “Chuck Close filter”, a “filter which enables to compose photomosaics, some like the ones of Chuck Close”.

    Simply put, acting the other way, Close has lost a fan (ok: it shouldn’t be a problem for him, if he would play the cynic in saying that there remain many others ahead…) and specially the occasion to appear, in the age of reproduction, a staple for a grant of forwardness and progress. And, which is worse, many of us has lost the ability to push a button and feel the pleasure to see something SIMILAR to his painting front of ou desks. Be clear: I never used this plugin (unfortunately), but the eventuality had had been nice, if only I hadn’t been both a graphic and a painter which isn’t keen to envy the neighbor, though I can admire what others are able to craft, any way it would be.

    Instead of a pacific composition of the “quarrel”, now we have a strange case for a denial ’cause of an alleged “copyright infringement” in digital art: and a weird one. One which risks to open a series of similar cases, maiming the realm of creativity and progress of art, eventually forever. And this is trivial indeed.

    Thanks for the attention and sorry for my “english”: perhaps I may expect a suit treat from some english professor due my daring endeavour.