Posted on November 5, 2008 in copyright, copywrong by Brian RoweComments Off

Are icons safe from copyright claims? One artist thinks not, Takashi Murakami is sending shakedown letters, through an agent, asking you for you to cough up $500 a year to use his artwork and an icon. Street live cameras: city live www.insecam.org.

A member of a poker site called twoplustwo named Mephisto used one of Murakami’s images as his 80×70 pixel avatar on the site’s forum.  Here is a copy of the letter he recieved:

Beat: “Your avatar is copyrighted

Hello, we are very complimented that you are a fan of Takashi Murakami’s art, however, the artwork image(known as And Then, And Then And Then And Then And Then Blue version, also known as Mr. DOB) you are using is copyrighted and therefore requires a license for private use, images used as avatars in forums are defined as private use and therefore you would need to purchase a license to use this image yearly.

The cheapest possible license costs about $498 USD or ¥50,000, if you cannot or are not interested in purchasing a private license, please take this off as your avatar, as Takashi Murakami’s artwork has to be licensed for private use.

We were contacted by one of our company colleagues who happens to post at this website, this is the only form of contact I have with you therefore I had to contact you within this form!

If you cannot purchase a license, we ask you kindly to please take this image off as your avatar, you are free to keep this artwork image on your computer, but private use is restricted and copyrighted.

Thank you, and I hope you will take this into consideration as I know myself this can get very unnecessary!

-Yusuke”

This over active licensing bothers me for three reasons:

#1 the fee asked is insane $500 for the use of an icon is more then it cost to play WOW for 2.5 years.

#2 the use of the icon does not compete with the market for the original work, in fact it increases the market value.  When I see interesting icons on LJ or forums if often sends me looking for the original source.  Icon use like this is basically free advertising for artist.

#3 The letter ignores fair use, there is a strong argument that noncommercial use use of a low quality cropped image may be fair use. Unfortunately it would cost thousands of dollars to take this to court and find out. (I do not see this as a strong fair use case, but possibly a borderline case)

I would support an author that wants attribution added to the icon or a link back, but obscene licensing fees only makes me want to avoid the artist and their work. My advice to Takashi Murakami is to fire his over active rights police before they hurt his fan base.

Links:
Careful With Those Avatars, You May Get A Shakedown Letter via TechCrunch by Michael Arrington

Forum post letter was taken from