Art-Techie Andy Baio Sued by Legendary Photographer Jay Maisel

kind of bloop comparison Art Techie Andy Baio Sued by Legendary Photographer Jay Maisel

Original and 8-bit side by side

While he spends most his time in Portland, Oregon, artist, writer and developer Andy Baio has had a big impact on the local scene at the intersection of art and technology.

Baio helped to launch the fast growing crowd funding platform Kickstarter, which relies on a mix of web savvy and social media to help independent artist find backing for their projects.

He was also part of the recent 7 on 7 exhibition at the New Museum, an annual show by Rhizome, sponsored this year by AOL, which pairs seven artists with seven technologists. He and partner Michael Bell-Smith created a program to make a giant remix of online remix videos.

Today he wrote about being sued for $150,000 by Jay Maisel. Baio had created Kind of Bloop, a chiptune remix of the Miles Davis album, Kind of Blue. A friend made a 8-bit pixel art version of the album’s legendary cover, a photo shot by Maisel. 

Baio eventually settled out of court for $32,500 and a promise to never use the artwork again. For Baio that’s a lot of money. For Maisel, who currently lives in a $40 million, 72 room mansion, it’s a statement of principle. Actually, that turns out to be the case for both of them.

“But this is important: the fact that I settled is not an admission of guilt,” wrote Baio on his blog. “My lawyers and I firmly believe that the pixel art is “fair use” and Maisel and his counsel firmly disagree. I settled for one reason: this was the least expensive option available.

At the heart of this settlement is a debate that’s been going on for decades, playing out between artists and copyright holders in and out of the courts. In particular, I think this settlement raises some interesting issues about the state of copyright for anyone involved in digital reinterpretations of copyrighted works…It breaks my heart that a project I did for fun, on the side, and out of pure love and dedication to the source material ended up costing me so much — emotionally and financially. For me, the chilling effect is palpably real. I’ve felt irrationally skittish about publishing almost anything since this happened. But the right to discuss the case publicly was one concession I demanded, and I felt obligated to use it. I wish more people did the same — maybe we wouldn’t all feel so alone.

Sad to see Maisel put a chill into the world of digital art, where remix is the language of the land. This was clearly not an attempt to make a quick buck with a knock off work, but an homage to a classic.

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  1. Maisel is a bit overrated and I doubt any young artist takes him seriously today. 

  2. Chrisb says:

    I just taped over the artwork on my copy of “Kind of Blue.” Maisel’s “iconic” work would be nothing if it weren’t based on the work of people expressing an artform based on improvisation and alliteration – most of jazz could not happen in today’s copyright landscape. Miles stood on the same giant’s shoulders we all do.

    Maisel could have made his point with out forcing $32,000 out of someone doing an homage to his work. He should be ashamed.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Maisel probably needed a new couch for his mansion and considered Andy an easy mark.  It’s unfortunate.

  4. Ren Martin says:

    I am sooo tired of the “poor artist abused by the rich copyright holder” reaction when an IP owner steps up and protects his legal rights. This theft of a copyrighted work is no different than if he had taken a beautiful bracelet from someone’s wrist so he could show it to other people, and then claimed fair use – what a joke. If he is such a brilliant artist why not create rather than steal and modify? Send him to the county fair along with Fairey to do seed art.

  5. Marc says:

    While Maisel seems, from a quick internet search, to probably be more wealthy than Baio, Baio is not a poor artist. He’s sold at least one company and has held several high positions with well-capitalized startups. He’s not going to miss any meals because of thirty grand.

  6. TimesRoman says:

    I don’t buy Baio’s lament. Fair use is fair use. Irrelevant if Maisel is wealthy. Who are the judges who are going to deem at one income level copyright owners can be ripped off? I’m a freelance writer, earn a just-middle-class (barely) income,  could use any extra that comes in when someone wishes to re-publish one of my articles. I don’t see the Baio/Maisel case as any different than when web site owners post my work on their sites. Oh, I see, I work to produce it for modest fees & you can take it for free as content for your for-profit site. I don’t really care if they’re struggling to launch their sites or they’re established & could afford to pay (Huffington Post, anyone?) So the income differential between Baio & Maisel is beside the point. It’s about the principle: ownership of intellectual property. Maybe if Baio had contacted Maisel, said he’d like to use his iconic image for an homage, Maisel would have responded differently. In these situation, I always think if you don’t ask, it’s because you’re afraid of the answer.