Stolen Artwork & Being a Cat Thief

The Concert by Jan Vermeer

"The Concert" by Jan Vermeer

On St. Patrick’s Day 1990, The Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed. Jan Vermeer’s most famous piece (which isn’t saying much since he has only 35 oil paintings in existence–pfft) titled “The Concert” was lifted in the middle of the night. To date, this piece has not been found and there is a $5,000,000 bounty for the rescue of this famous piece of artwork.

Very few pieces of artwork of this caliber have been taken. Or have they?

For every great piece of work, there are imitators. Seeing opportunities for profit makes it easy for advertisers and broadcasters to hand-wring. For every “Care Bear” there’s a “Gummi Bear”. For every “E.T.”, there’s a “Mac & Me”. For every “Jaws”, there’s an “Orca”. Even “Six Million Dollar Man” had an episode based on A Christmas Carol.

We’re all creators of media, therefore are responsible for what we produce. As an editor, I always ask the same question for pieces of artwork: 1. Is this original work? 2. If it’s bought, then how is it licensed? The responsibility lies with all of us to insure that we are doing due diligence in terms of paying royalties and filling out paperwork to retain the rights.

Inversely, we should be protecting our original material. Logos, visual branding, sonic branding, specific colors, etc. all tie into who you are and how you should be protected. If you would like to safeguard certain pieces from infringement, it’s important to register and maintain trademarks and copyrights.

My personal amiga Mindi Giftos is an intellectual property attorney and she has many insights into this very topic. She advocates taking care of all intellectual property issues at teh outset of a project or branding endeavor. While it may seem like a hassle at the time, it is always easier (and cheaper) than trying to sort through ownership or infringement issues after potential problems arise. It is also valuable to get a handle on what is protectible intellectual property and what is not. Personally, I get a little geeked out about IP Law and how it applies to me and my clients. Since I’m probably the last technical clearing house, I should have a good education on some of the fundamental practicalities of IP. Some of her pieces are insightful and enlightening about this very topic.

That being said, what do I like to take away from great art? How do I steal great art? Creating a message that’s creative and speaks to us as consumers–it’s something that is built upon the shoulders of past work. Salvador Dali (back to art) once said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you have done work with us or have worked for us. Therefore, you are part of the process to create the stories that help our clients. If you see something that inspires you, don’t be afraid to imitate it or become inspired by it. Share it with us. Make us take part in re-creating that feeling or look that could help us grow as artists. Is there a commercial or movie that you would like to share?

It may be simple or it may be complex. Sandy showed us a few days ago how “The Closer” (TNT) uses their opening graphics. It gives me a true visual how Sandy would like to use graphics in an upcoming piece. Having that evidence helps move the project along quicker. With the advent of online video, it has become easier to make this type of producing easier. Maybe too easy!

Finally, I just want to tell you that I understand that there are deep, legal issues embedded in the limits of Intellectual Property but let us grow creatively from the achievements of past work. It’s easy to do and this creates a very real representation of your vision to a project or campaign!

All Great Cat Thieves Wear Tight Black Outfits and Carry Goggles Just In Case.

All Great Cat Thieves Wear Tight Black Outfits and Carry Goggles Just In Case.