Intellectual Property

Be Just Like Me: I'm Like Everybody Else

|


These images are totally different because one only has three cats

Students of artistic copyright, aficionados of the Emily/Rosamond infringement controversy, and little-girls-with-bangs fetishists (maybe you're all three!) will be interested in the unfolding of the lawsuit over Rob Reger's popular brand.

This juxtaposition of images and text snippets surfaced in December. On the left, an illustration by Marc Simont for Marjorie Weinman Sharmat's 1978 book Nate the Great Goes Undercover; on the right, a 1991 logo of Reger's Emily the Strange, the creepy 13-year-old who has a booming international franchise in clothes, comics and other crap, along with a movie in the works. Neither Sharmat nor Simont had heard of Emily prior to that, and Reger offered a lame excuse in response. Now Reger is arguing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco that Sharmat and Simont should not be allowed to sue him.

SF Weekly has details of the court case:

The lawsuit reads like a primer on 20th-century goth girls, and submits as evidence pictures of Elvira, Vampira, Wednesday from The Addams Family, Lydia from Beetlejuice, and manga characters. "For many decades," the lawsuit states, "a common cultural motif that has appeared in many creative works involves a woman or girl with long dark hair, possibly bangs, and dark clothing who is associated with the macabre, occult, mysterious, or strange, and is sometimes accompanied by creatures such as bats or black cats."

According to the Weekly, this argument undermines Emily's main selling point: that she's a DIY nonconformist who copies nobody. Probably true, but the whole controversy indicates what a vain pursuit nonconformity is in an economy where even huge brands enjoy only fractional market penetration. In my world, Emily is a pretty ubiquitous presence, in stores and on clothing, in bars and cars, everywhere. Yet the originators of her original -- people who presumably pay some attention to popular culture -- had never even heard of her during her nearly two-decade career. (One of these days I'll tell you how I invented the Sexy Catholic Schoolgirl look with a now-lost series of fourth-grade stroke drawings of my favorite classmates.)

Maybe Shepard Fairey can get involved in this dispute, if punk-ish logos ever help us elect a Goth president (and isn't it time?).