Don't Try To Create An Illustrated Version Of A David Bowie Song... Or The Copyright Police Will Come After You

from the ground-control-to-major-tom dept

David Bowie has generally been one of the more forward-looking and forward-thinking musicians out there in understanding the digital revolution. Hell, it was nearly a decade ago when Bowie predicted the end of copyright, and said this was "terribly exciting." Of course, there are only about 10 months left for copyright to disappear for his original prediction to come true, so we're going to assume he was a bit aggressive on the timeline. But, on the whole, Bowie seems to have recognized how the digital world was changing the nature of copyright.

Unfortunately, it appears that whoever holds the copyright on some of his music doesn't quite feel the same way. Someone sent over this article from the Toronto Star, about how an illustrator named Andrew Kolb created some nice illustrations to go with the famous Bowie song Space Oddity, turning it into something of a "children's book." Now leaving aside the... um... oddity of a "children's book" about an astronaut who dies in space, the illustrations looked pretty cool.

Except, as that started to get attention, Kolb was threatened with an infringement claim. Of course, the Star fails Journalism 101, in that it never actually names the party who holds the copyright or who threatened the illustrator. One might come away from the article believing it's David Bowie, but I'm guessing it was someone else. In fact, I reached out to Kolb to find out who sent the takedown, and he said that he'd rather not say, because -- despite starting with a legal nastygram, he's apparently still in contact with the copyright holder, and discussing the possibility of doing something in an authorized manner.

Of course, when I started writing this post, there was actually still a YouTube video of the book and song up, but now if you click below, you see that it's been taken down with a copyright claim from "Onward Music Ltd," who does appear to hold the copyright on the song.
Either way, Kolb, who did this purely for fun and not for profit, has pixelated out the name and stopped referring to it as Space Oddity. And seeing as the video is gone, here's an image from the pdf:
Now if Kolb were actually going out and trying to sell this as a book without the copyright holder's approval, you can see where the concern might be. But, seeing as he just did this for fun, it's basically a form of fan art, which most copyright holders (though certainly not all) seem to appreciate. It's somewhat bizarre that such a nice bit of artwork for a song would bring out copyright threats. Kolb seems somewhat amused at the whole setup and the idea that a fun little project he did brought out legal guns, and he certainly doesn't seem upset by it. I still think the whole thing is unfortunate. He was helping to promote the song, not harming it.

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  1. icon
    Nicholas Alexander (profile), 9 Sep 2011 @ 7:40am

    re comment 12

    I wonder if Onward Music's ownership of this copyright was part of the motivation behind him carefully protecting his works since then? So many artists from the 60s and 70s had no protection so now do not care about the abundant sharing of their works via youtube etc. Even though Bowie has copyrighted his music he has done plenty to encourage the use of his works on the internet. Being aware that more is to be gained from promulgation than endless court cases with some of his earlier management entities.

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