Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The MTA is Throwing its Weight Around - and I'm the TARGET

I need your help, my dear Night Shifters.

I received a rather formidable communication today from New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority, regarding my paintings on the surface of discarded subway cards. I've shared the images here with you and, as you know, have them for sale in my Etsy shop.

The letter writer (an intern in the marketing department, hmph), wrote, in part:

"While we at the MTA are flattered that you recognize the value of our brand to consumers, please understand the MTA has a well-established product licensing program which markets authorized versions of such products. While we have no record of your firm requesting or being granted such authorization, we are prepared to initiate discussions with you about acquiring a license from us.

The MTA's intellectual property is protected by applicable copyright law and trademark law. The manner in which your web site markets these items, such as your reference to New York City subway, implies involvement and/or endorsement of your business and products by the MTA.

The MTA considers its intellectual property to be a valuable asset which we protect from dilution and confusion in the marketplace. The MTA obtained and maintains its registered trademarks, copyrights and intellectual property in the public interest. It is important for the MTA to be able to communicate with the public about its services, as well as operate its established licensed products program, without unauthorized users of its intellectual property creating confusion.

Please reply to me by email or in writing to acknowledge receipt of this notice, and to indicate your intention to remove this item from Etsy and cease any sales of the item..

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation......."

Well.  

My big bad oil paintings, on the surface of discarded subway cards,

are apparently a huge threat to the sanctity of the MTA's intellectual property.  Unless, of course, I want to throw down some big cash and pay for the privilege of referencing the MTA in any way.

That ain't gonna happen.

And I wonder if the MTA is aware of this event: http://singlefare.blogspot.com/

Check it out -- a full gallery exhibit of art work on Metro Cards, solicited from artists from around the world (I heard about it too late and missed the deadline,  dammit, but I plan to submit for next year's show).

So this begs the question - Why single me out? A full-scale gallery show is permitted, at top-notch prices  of $100 per card, but my handful of offerings on Etsy, and at a lower price, are not?

If you google "art on Metro Cards" you'll see a slew of work, not to mention extensive coverage of the Singlefare exhibit at the Sloan Gallery, including coverage by The New York Times, Reuters, and the AP among others. What gives?

Want to help a struggling artist out? 

Email Mark Heavey Chief of Marketing & Advertising at the MTA. His email is mheavey@mtahq.org -- and urge him to permit the unfettered use of the discarded cards in art.

BIG THANK YOU TO YOU ALL!


 

11 comments:

Dan Gliubizzi said...

HM-mm I was thinking about this today! Did you call the Sloan Gallery?
I think the you are in the gray area that so many rap artists experienced with sampling. Have you heard of Shepard Fairy and his issues with the Obama portrait?. You may be off the hook since once a Metrocard is discarded, most times on the rails. They may arrive at "In the public domain" There is some free legal council for artists available.
I look forward to hearing how this goes.

Raj said...

Civilization will fail if MTA does not get recognized for having printed bazillions of boring, identical pieces of paper, which you have turned into thought provoking art! The terror! The devastation!

Email sent.

VH McKenzie said...

Hey Dan,

Thanks for the input. My first reaction was, of course, to pull everything offline until I had a flood of info and opinions from other artists, most of whom thought the MTA didn't have a leg upon which to stand!

Long story short, I pulled the pre-painted images of the cards from my Etsy listings and also removed any references to the MTA. They are now simply "used/recycled subway cards."

Technically, it is art on a "found object." If you google "art metro card", over 140,000 items come up, including an MTA employee who makes sculptures with the cards and exhibits them in his token booth!

Go figure.

I'm thinking this was may be the effort of an overly-ambitious intern at the MTA..........we'll see what happens next. I may indeed have to email Sloan Fine Art Gallery if the MTA pushes me any further.

Goggla said...

Hmm...maybe they singled you out because they feel your art is amazing and likely to sell in massive quantities. You're a threat! Use this attention to your advantage...

Goggla said...

BTW - it would be really cool if the MTA printed art like this on metrocards - they'd be collectors' items and could maybe be used to raise money for charities or something like that (as USPS does with stamps).

Baking with Sylvia Plath said...

These are beautiful! And I can't believe the MTA thinks this is a good idea. If enough people find out about this, we can make this into a PR issue for them--and they'll leave you alone (I hope I hope).

On another note, I've been searching for paintings of water towers for years (I'm kind of obsessed). So, yes. I like you, and I'll do what I can to help.

Baking with Sylvia Plath said...

These are beautiful! And I can't believe the MTA thinks this is a good idea. If enough people find out about this, we can make this into a PR issue for them--and they'll leave you alone (I hope I hope).

On another note, I've been searching for paintings of water towers for years (I'm kind of obsessed). So, yes. I like you, and I'll do what I can to help.

Rebecca Harshbarger said...

Hi, I was reading your blog and horrified to hear about what's happening with you and the MTA. I was wondering if we could talk about it? I'm a news reporter for the Post and wanted to write about this. My e-mail is rebecca.jane.harshbarger@gmail.com and my cell is 516.884.3357. E-mail, text, call whatever is best! Thanks and good luck, Rebecca

James said...

You may want to read this about what the MTA has been doing to artists and photographers.

http://www.likelihoodofconfusion.com/mtas-way-the-highway/

It is an eye opener. Ironically anything created by the Federal government is by definition in the public domain because taxpayer money created it. State law is different and state agencies can get away with trademarks and copyright abuse.

Bob Arihood said...

Well , this trouble is all likely the product of an overactive ,overstimulated bureaucrat that is working above his or her paygrade .You are using discarded material and not brand or trasdemark , you're not infringing on their interests .They'll likely have difficulty gettin you into court with out the judge laughing them out to the street. whatever keep on truckin VH

Rosie said...

Actually, maybe you could turn this around and get them to commission your work on their cards...?