House of M...adrid?
April 22, 2005 1:36 PM   Subscribe

More Photoshop mischief? After raising a spot of trouble in the British election campaign, use of that most ubiquitous piece of software may now have landed some egg on Marvel Comics' face. Or was the offending picture traced? The answer to that question could have some relevance in the copyright infringement lawsuit which Spain's less than amused Royal Household is more than likely to start against Marvel, according to the Spanish press. (First FPP...please have some mercy)
posted by Skeptic (35 comments total)
I doubt it was photoshopped. The style is too different. What do they employ all those artists for, if not for creating drawings with a unique and recognizable style?

It's crazy that we live in a world where creating a drawing of a photo could be considered illegal.
posted by breath at 1:52 PM on April 22, 2005

I wonder if the photo is in the public domain since it was technically paid for by Spanish tax dollars?
posted by zanpo at 1:53 PM on April 22, 2005

It very plainly wasn't traced, look at the hands. Magneto's have been recolored to match his super 70's tan, but the tonality is the same. The face is obviously a drawing but the rest is a retouched photo.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:55 PM on April 22, 2005

This whole thing seems more purposefully bizarre than like legitimate copyright infringement. This kind of thing would be supervised at the highest level - like this is specifically what Bendis (or whomever) asked for when this painting was done.

Especially considering that this is supposed to be an alternate universe Marvel - some of the designs are pretty whack.

I find the whole thing creepy.
posted by the theory of revolution at 1:55 PM on April 22, 2005

First of all, it's a perfectly OK FPP, but NO ONE CARES IF IT'S YOUR FIRST FPP. It's either good, or it's not. (If you really care about how well it's received, announcing "This is my first FPP" is totally counter-productive. You're basically just painting a bullseye on your forehead, for no good reason.)

Regarding the copied painting, I think it's a totally interesting juxtaposition, but I can't see how it would have any legal traction. First of all, who even owns the rights to the original image? There's a post on the Millarworld forums that links into (which I presume is associated with the Royal Household), but the image has a watermark that looks like a private photographer or a stock house ("A. Schommer").

Secondly, what are the relevant "fair use" laws? Whether or not there's some kind of copyright footprint, depending on the jurisdictions, it might still be totally legitimate to use the original as fodder for "artistic interpretation".

Just asking.
posted by LairBob at 2:01 PM on April 22, 2005

Magneto sure looks cooler than the King tho, hey?

I can't believe they even still have a King. WTF is that all about.
posted by undule at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2005

If basing comic art on real photographs is going to start being the basis for lawsuit, Alex Ross is fucked. Bea Arthur's going to bring down a world of hurt on his photorealistic ass.
posted by COBRA! at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2005

Depicting a member of a royal family as a supervillain... a bold political statement? A lazy swipe? A way to generate free publicity? None of the above?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:05 PM on April 22, 2005

Helen Hunt, "Mad About You", episode #69, "My Boyfriend's Back"...

This is all sounding familiar...
posted by HuronBob at 2:09 PM on April 22, 2005

How ironic that Millar would point out all this when his best buddy Liefield steals more than anyone alive.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:22 PM on April 22, 2005

There is a long tradition of comic book artists blatantly tracing/copying previously done artwork - called "swiping".
(more here as linked above)

Whoever does own the copyright on the image certainly does have the right and, probably, legal standing to sue for copyright infringement.
posted by cinderful at 2:45 PM on April 22, 2005

I can't believe they even still have a King. WTF is that all about.

WTF is that you're not old enough to remember when Spain was a dictatorship, and the Crown was in disfavor. As far as i know, restoration of the constitutional monarchy was a huge point of pride for Spaniards in the '70s. Since the death of Franco and the restoration of the Monarchy, Spain has experienced a genuine rennaissance.

As for the picture, I think it's pretty cool. I always liked Magneto. Royals are always annoyed when their likenesses are appropriated, but so what.
posted by lodurr at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2005

LairBob: The copyright does belong to Alberto Schommer, a reputed photographer. However, considering that the Royal Household is probably his biggest client by far (that photo is not just any old picture, it is the official portrait of the king, found in many government buildings across Spain, as well as in embassies and consulates abroad), I don't doubt that he'll have more than enough motivation to enforce his copyright in this case.
undule: A water cooler would look cooler than King Juan Carlos. His dinasty hasn't produced many good-looking people, and a lot of exceptionally ugly ones, I'm afraid. He has a regal posture, though, which is what I guess attracted Mayhew's attention.
zanpo: Government funding doesn't put anything in the public domain. Governments have strong patent portfolios, for instance.
breath: "The style is too different"? You must be joking. It's the same bloody picture, but for the face!
posted by Skeptic at 3:23 PM on April 22, 2005

That is a great picture.

There are subtle differences. The cross medals on the king's chest are X medals on Magneto's chest. Magneto's buttons are different, I think.

But modifications of pictures have, I think, been fairly constantly held to be fair use. Maybe the Spanish royal family is claiming copyright to the uniform and regalia. Who knows.

I think it's a good piece of art, though.
posted by blacklite at 3:23 PM on April 22, 2005

blacklite : " But modifications of pictures have, I think, been fairly constantly held to be fair use." Spanish law as well?
posted by Bugbread at 3:30 PM on April 22, 2005

Skeptic: It's hard to tell with such a low-resolution picture, but it looks to me that just at and below the level of detail we can see, the image has been rendered with brushstrokes and different lines. Every detail is exactly positioned in the same place, but is shaped subtly differently, as though the outlines had been traced and the colors added freehand. I'm no expert, though. I'd be more than willing to come around to the photoshop hypothesis if someone could come up with a higher-resolution comparison. (which, ironically, could itself be considered copyright violation)

This raises some interesting questions, though. At what point does something transform from a copy to an independent work?
Is it a copy if it is hand-painted from a blank canvas, even if the two images are exactly indistinguishable?
How about if someone took a print of the photo and painted over the top of that? Does it depend on the degree of the painting?
What if you made a sculpture that, if viewed from the correct angle, exactly reproduced the original image?

One thing I've always wondered: why don't the artists who have created the wallpaper, medals, tailored suit, etc. in photographs like this get a cut? Surely they hold the copyright on the images that they have created, and a photograph is a copy of those images.

On preview: blacklite was here first.
posted by breath at 4:00 PM on April 22, 2005

This is hilarious, and as for the people who don't recognize this as an obvious Photoshop... I can recommend a good ophthalmologist. You can even see the silhouette of Juan Carlos' head behind Magneto's. I like the X medals, though.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:11 PM on April 22, 2005

scroll down in the thread. it shows they are the same image in places, not traced, just stylized - see the veins in the hands.
posted by tomplus2 at 4:32 PM on April 22, 2005 Spanish law as well?

Well, I don't know. I guess we'll find out soon.
posted by blacklite at 4:42 PM on April 22, 2005

These guys have way too much time on their hands. It was lightboxed or it was scanned and P'shopped, and the truth is, at the level of transformation that would have been done on it, I doubt anyone who wasn't in the room at the time could tell you for sure. It doesn't matter. People who do tracing a lot are often quite skilled and detail oriented enough to get the veins and lines on his hands. Maybe there's a legal ramification to which is true, but I suspect not. Judges are usually not simple minded enough to let themselves get trapped on tiny technicalities like that.

The question of whether this is 'art' or not could be interesting; I happen to think that it is. I think it's got a lot of nice little resonances (e.g., Magnus being a man of such regal bearing all the time -- something that Ian McKellan definitely "got" -- and the fact that he's been such a popular villain ever since he got ambivalent back in the '70s in large part because of his willingness to exercise power into very gray areas). And I think the subtext of it being based on a picture of a "new" monarch like Juan Carlos is interesting; it won't hit for people who (as I note above) forget Spanish history, but so what, it will work for a lot of us.

That's a different matter from whether there's a legit copyright beef. From what i know of the law (which is admittedly not a lot), there would be; I'm not sure there should be, though.

Oh, and breath, regarding your 'one thing' -- well, that way lies madness. Copyright, despite our intensely moralistic modern reading of it, is not a moral instrument, but a legal and financial one. Early legal thinkers in America were pretty ambivalent about what we call "intellectual property"; they almost all thought that protecting such things too strongly would inhibit innovation. Where they differed is in how much they were willing to inhibit innovation to protect someone's right to earn from their creation. These days, defenders of copyright take an almost Libertarian (in the post-Jeffersonian sense, of course) stand -- i.e., that intellectual property is basically just like real property, and deserves the same kinds of protection.
posted by lodurr at 4:54 PM on April 22, 2005

I'm always amazed when supposedly talented artists completely rip off the work of real pioneers. It's one thing to pay homage to a style, quite another to plagiarize someone else's hard work. Fuck them, I hope the thieving bastards rot. The Swipe of the Week site is a great link, Optimus Chyme --I wish the site were still operational.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:22 PM on April 22, 2005

FoB: Very well observed! The outline of JC's head is clearly visible behind Magneto's. My final verdict: Obvious Photoshop with very minor alterations (rotating the crosses in the medals 45 degrees and adding slight retouches to the crossed swords braided on the cuffs) other than sticking Magneto's head on Juan Carlos'. Which has not been done very elegantly, BTW: not only because the king's outline is still visible behind Magneto, but also because Magneto's head sits far too low on that neck. The differences in colour and shading can be simply due to Photoshop filters and printing processes. It's a very lazy swipe, and the "artist" (who didn't even bother to discreetly credit the original photographer) deserves to be hit with the copyright stick, hard. One has got to admire the chutzpah, though.
posted by Skeptic at 5:24 PM on April 22, 2005

It definitely looks like a Photoshop, but what about the sketch? (For those of you who didn't scroll down in the original link, here).

Not that I think the artists ought to be spared the copyright-hammer. I'm an advocate of looser copyright restrictions, but come on. Defenders of Marvel: You're suggesting that the folks at Marvel should be able to duplicate one of my photographs, draw a couple characters in the foreground, and profit from my artistic work?

One thing I've always wondered: why don't the artists who have created the wallpaper, medals, tailored suit, etc. in photographs like this get a cut? Surely they hold the copyright on the images that they have created, and a photograph is a copy of those images.

I wonder about this, too. As adamant as I am about protecting my own images (from commercial use — they are Creative Commons-licensed), there are times when I photograph another artwork or a corporate logo (for instance) and have to second-guess myself about the legality accepting payment for the photo or even publishing it on my website under CC.

I need to delve deeper into Lessig's Future of Ideas, but the introduction deals with incidental works appearing in film and how out-of-hand it's getting — notably, Batman Forever was threatened when the Batmobile drove through a copyrighted courtyard.

But I don't think the Marvel case is at all about an "incidental" appearance. This isn't a case where the main character walks past a copyrighted poster. This is a nearly duplicated work. I might as well take a chapter from a recent top-seller, do a search-replace on the characters names, and then include it in my own novel.
posted by rafter at 6:00 PM on April 22, 2005

Which brings us to the point of all of this. Liefeld is a hack. Still, I'd say this picture (not Liefeld's work) is a tribute, if anything.
posted by graventy at 7:40 PM on April 22, 2005

This reminds me of the time that Amy Grant (the Christian singer) sued Marvel (and won, iirc) over the unauthorized use of her likeness from an album cover on the cover of an issue of Doctor Strange. It's all just so weird...can't anyone draw original pictures anymore?
posted by ChrisTN at 8:16 PM on April 22, 2005

cf. The Winter Brothers v. DC Comics' Autumn Brothers (from Jonah Hex).
posted by obloquy at 8:32 PM on April 22, 2005

I just can't believe that the artist didn't think anyone in Spain wouldn't immediately recognize the macaroni.
posted by dhartung at 10:17 PM on April 22, 2005

I love this post! and great links, cinderful, ChrisTN, and obloquy (the Winter brothers didn't win).

The swipe site is great, but maybe something just about this — likenesses of public figures in comic books — would make a good site or wiki or something.
posted by taz at 11:20 PM on April 22, 2005

All art is appropriation.

Even if this case is "illegal", I hope the Spanish government has more pressing issues to deal with than this.
posted by fungible at 11:30 PM on April 22, 2005

Wallpaper art is copyrighted, and cannot be used for example in the background for a movie. Movie makers spend a LOT of money making sets so they don't get someone elses image on film. One reason films are so expensive to make.
posted by Osmanthus at 11:45 PM on April 22, 2005

rafter: The sketch is an even more obvious Photoshop. Just look at the "wallpaper" in the background. As this background is bigger than the original picture, the artist has resorted to mirroring parts of the original background (which is a tapestry, not a wallpaper) to fill up the empty space. Tricky if this was traced, never mind drawn, very simple if Photoshop was at play.
posted by Skeptic at 1:14 AM on April 23, 2005

fungible : " Even if this case is 'illegal', I hope the Spanish government has more pressing issues to deal with than this."

I hope they don't. A country whose most pressing issue is Marvel Comics photoshopping Magneto's head onto their own head of state is a country with few problems indeed.
posted by Bugbread at 5:49 AM on April 23, 2005

"One thing I've always wondered: why don't the artists who have created the wallpaper, medals, tailored suit, etc. in photographs like this get a cut? Surely they hold the copyright on the images that they have created, and a photograph is a copy of those images."

Yes, but it's been my experience that when such objects are merely compositional elements to a larger piece, it's very difficult to enforce copyright as it's difficult to demonstrate what percentage of entitlement they have (among other things). That's not saying it can't be done but it's clearly not an open and shut case. Osmanthus is right though, wallpaper (which this isn't) is copyrighted.

I find this case a bit different though. Most infringement cases are either spot on rip offs or fairly well manipulated pieces that differ from the original enough to have them considered original pieces of art. I just don't see that here. Aside from the characters head, the differences are so miniscule it's almost a slap in the face to the photographer. I don't know about Spanish law at all but in America, he'd get his ass handed to him - and probably should.

Reminds me of when Vanilla Ice argued that 'Ice Ice Baby' wasn't a rip off of the Bowie/Queen tune 'Pressure' because one bass note was different. Ugh....
posted by j.p. Hung at 7:00 AM on April 23, 2005

Oh come now, it was obviously either Jasc Paintshop Pro or Corel's Painter or PhotoPaint...
posted by juiceCake at 11:08 AM on April 23, 2005

"It's all just so weird...can't anyone draw original pictures anymore?"

In a manner of speaking, they never did. If you're hired to draw a komodo dragon, for instance, you're not just going to go from memory. You're going to need to find one or more photos of komodo dragons to use as reference. You're probably not going to actually trace the photos, but an accomplished artist might get nearly as close by sketching from reference as he would by tracing.

So the question isn't really "Why don't artists draw original pictures?" It's "At what point does a photo reference become a rip-off?" If you draw the claw from one photo and the head from another, does that make it an original drawing, or a double rip-off? Do you need to find six different photos of everything you draw, or can you just say "I need to draw a durian fruit, here's a picture of a durian fruit, I'm set"?

I'm very extremely not a lawyer, but the one thing I've taken away from my readings about IP law is that there's no quick gimmicky way make the distinction clear. You can't say "Well, if you trace it's okay, but if you use Photoshop it's infringement." You can't say "Well, as long as you only use thirty percent of the original photo you're okay." You can't say "You can use anything you want as long as you don't make money." Any of these might be factors in a potential court case, but none of them are sure things.

In the case of the Magneto picture, I'd say the artist could have avoided a lot of trouble by making their sources a little less blatant. There's really no reason to use the body position and the outfit and the medals and the tapestry from the same picture, unless this was intended to be some sort of European royalty in-joke.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 12:41 PM on April 23, 2005

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