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.