Glenn's Junk Chest

An assortment of Glenn's writings, photography, gaming resources, flash movies, and other creative output.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Copyright: A Modest Destiny Indeed

Update: As of Sept 19th, the original site is down, however, here is an off-site archive of everything. Squidi linked to it at one point, so I presume it had his approval.

Squidi, the creator of the popular web comic A Modest Destiny has decided to give it up. This is unfortunate, because it was one of my regular reads, but not uncommon. Drawing any comic is demanding, and I've lost track of the number of people that have given it up over the past few years due to various pressures such as time, money, or simply the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of the internet.

There are, however, two interesting things about the end of the comic. The first, and more important, is that if you've never read it, Squidi has posted the entire run as zipped chapters on his website. You can download these to browse at your leisure, and it's worth doing, because they're funny and well done. In fact, while the series has gotten darker, the first series, a year worth of comics, was some of the best webcomic-ing out there. He's only going to leave them up for a few weeks before he takes the entire site down, so, if you haven't ever read them, this will be your last knowable chance to see. (see update above.)

The second is that Squidi is a victim of the extremely harsh intellectual property war that's currently going on, and I don't think he even realizes it. I want to reflect on this.

If you read Squidi's current rant on the main page about why he's ending the comic, you may be confused about the history he alludes to. In a nutshell, here's what happened. A forum user in Penny Arcade's forums (Tubesteak Samurai, if I recall) used an avatar based on one of Squidi's characters. Squidi doesn't allow this kind of derivative use of his characters to pass unchallenged. He asked for the offending avatar to be pulled and was initially rebuffed by the forum authorities. Attempting to escalate the issue, he wrote to the creators of Penny Arcade, asking them to intervene. At some point in the exchange he mentioned that he had used legal action (or the threat of legal action) to force the removal of his content from other sites in the past. This was perceived as an empty threat and he was rebuffed again, publicly and rudely, and has been mocked for the incident to this very day. He's gotten quite bitter and defensive about the whole thing.

Most of the arguments I've seen about this have hinged around three points. Firstly, the dubious claim that pixel-based characters such as Squidi's are insufficiently distinctive to deserve copyright protection. Secondly, the resonable claim that derived forum avatars really ought to constitute fair use. Finally, the commonly held belief that, right or wrong, Squidi was being way way too prickly about this and should have just let the whole matter slide.

Regardless of the merit of these points, which really have been done to death in other forums, I'd like to say that I don't really think any of these things is the problem. I think these are merely symptoms of a greater problem, which is that the attempts by the corporate world to broaden intellectual property in general, and copyright in specific, have lead Squidi into a false position.

For decades, the corporate world has been trying to broaden their rights. in the past decade this has gotten pretty bad. We've got laws like the DMCA that strip away established fair use rights from citizens of the US. Explosive patent breadth that allows for the patenting of everything under the sun, inhibiting the advancement of the state of the art in direct contravention of the founders' intentions. Worst of all, these restrictions are being exported to the rest of the world via treaties, such as the recent CAFTA, which requires signatory nations to enforce DMCA-like provisions.

In fact, most intellectual property law traditionally existed to protect the little guy from the big guy. You write a book, or paint a painting, you get paid for it for a reasonable period. During that time, no one can copy it and sell it without your permission. Similarly, if you invent something, you get paid for that invention for a similarly reasonable period. Finally, if you start selling something under the name of tasty-taps, a huge food manufacturer can't suddenly start selling something called tasty-taps for half the price and ruin you. Copyright, patent, trademark.

That scenario has been transformed. Most intellectual property in the country is now being used by the big guys to crush, limit or stop the little guy. The copyright on any classic pieces of american art produced in the last 80 years is now so indefinite that the "reasonable period" might as well be infinite. It is common policy at large corporations to patent everything, no matter how obvious, because if the patent is granted they can use it to crush or extort competitors, especially small ones. Finally, with a combination of trademark and copyright law, corporations are continually assaulting the rights of the citizenry to use, modify and discuss the products that we get from them. Since these products are woven into the fabric of our very lives, this treads dangerously close to a free speech restriction. They use the law to crush fan sites, fan fiction and other derivative works, and even, through laws like the DMCA, attempt to practically restrict established rights such as archiving and review.

Accompanying all this is a constant barrage of propaganda that seeks to continually expand the borders of what Intellectual Property means, one millimeter at a time, often with distortions of the truth or what the law actually says. This effort has, sadly, been mostly successful, with your average person on the street unaware of the rights they actually have, or that, in fact, there was once a time that they could look forward to meaningful content entering the public domain on a continous basis. It's only understandable that content creators would begin to feel like these new wider boundaries on IP apply to them, as well.

But they don't. And therein lies Squidi's problem. The machine has been rebuilt from the ground up to serve corporate needs, and corporations have armies of lawyers and very very thick skins. Squidi clearly has neither of those things, and by trying to apply the same sort of all-controlling copyright regime that a corporation like Disney does, he has learned a harsh truth. Without the lawyers, people will actually use their own judgement in distinguishing between reasonable use and unreasonable use, and it's a far easier fit than the standard the corporate world currently applies. The weapons that the big guys use to force their definition of "reasonable" are just too big for Squidi to use, but he tried to use them anyway.

In the end, Squidi drew more fire than he could handle, because his actions kicked up a cloud of latent resentment. Resentment that's not aimed at him, but at the insane copyright regime that would control our culture and its art and artifacts. A lot of people are fed up with the way the IP war seems to be going, and anyone who takes the side of the oppressors, wittingly or unwittingly, may find themselves taking a metaphorical bullet meant for them.

I'll certainly miss the comic, I congratulate Squidi on his new child, and I hope that he can pick himself back up, dust himself off, and find a niche, any niche, that allows him to publish his work in way that makes him happy. But I don't think he can get the control he seems to want so desparately. In order to have the power to do so, he'd need to get a corporation on his side, and in order to get that, he would have to give up the self-same control to them, which I suspect is a far worse devil's bargain than the rough-and-tumble of the internet.


At 5:05 PM, Blogger Bill D91 said...

While the squidi guy could have been more reasonable than threatening legal action (since the characters aren't trademarked and doesn't need to contest their use... though this brings up questions about whether the use of the character as a forum avatar could prevent the character from being trademarkable because it wasn't contested...), the Penny Arcade forum guys could have been reasonable and killed the avatar. While I support fair use, since using the character as a forum icon isn't using it in a review or for educational purpose, and if used continually or without supporting material, probably isn't satirical, I can't see it as fair use.
I think it's things like this that help to muddy the waters on what constitutes and does not constitute fair use. We all know corporations try to limit what is considered fair use. Some do it by moving to countries that don't have fair use doctrines as part of their intellectual property law thus, by treaty, denying it for their materials even in the US. Some do it by fighting any use of their IP, even if clearly fair use, knowing that their lawyers can tie things up and exhaust the defender's ability to pay legal fees.
But using someone else's IP frivolously under some claim of fair use just seems to me to encourage the crackdown. What's the best way to get rid of the ambiguity about what is and what isn't fair use? Treat it all the same! Get the courts to whittle down what constitutes fair use in case after case of poorly thought out legal decisions!
If we want to protect public reasonable use of IP, we should push the offenders to use IP properly... fully attributed and in really fair use.
Just because the internet tends to allow free-for-all behavior, that doesn't mean it's right...

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Glenn said...

Well Bill, the waters are even muddier than that.

The avatars weren't actually any of Squidi's characters. They were original avatars based on the pixel art of squidi's characters. In copyright parlance, they were derivative works. From a fair use perspective, some types of derivative work are OK, while others aren't. Usually the distinction hinges on how much of the original work is used, but sometimes it has to do with the type of expression. Fan fiction, for instance, uses none of the original work's content save for character names, setting names and a sort of general aethestic. But many people regard it as infringing. On the other hand, much hip hop music is assembled from audio samples taken from other works. In other words, parts of the other work are actually included in the new work. Yet the courts have found that this is not always infringing.

In this case, none of squidi's actual illustrations were used at all. Certain elements were clearly used, but were often recolored, redrawn, or tweaked. Other elements were completely original, and the gestalt was mostly something new in each case, just something that resembled Squidi in style. But even assuming that they had been wholesale copies, there's another issue that really needs to be addressed, and it's one I which I think you need to seriously adjust your thinking.

It would be OK, copyright-wise, for you to make personal use of the Disney characters in most contexts. You can decorate your cake with Disney characters, paint them on your kids' walls, draw them on your letters, cut them out of magazines and glue them into your diary, sew them onto your clothing, draw them in your notebooks, whatever. You can take a photograph of your kid's cake with Disney characters, blow it up into an 8x10 and send it to all your friends. You can't, of course, do these things for others for profit, and you can't publish them.

But is posting in an unmoderated public forum personal use, or publishing? If it's personal use, shouldn't you be able to do the same sort of thing you would do in a letter to a friend? If it's publishing, doesn't that spell the effective death of a whole category of personal use? I mean, the last time I sent a physical letter, I was in high school. (Leave aside the whole issue of who is doing the publishing, the forum owner or the forum poster.) What about email? Email to 100 people? Email to a mailing list? Email to a mailing list with a web archive?

My position on this is pretty clear. You ought to be able to use Mickey Mouse as your forum avatar. It's personal use (ergo fair use) of copyrighted content, and shouldn't be seen as eroding the rights of the DIsney corporation in any way. To wrongfully construe it as publication is to paint ourselves into a corner where we can't use the new technologies to exercise the rights that we used to take for granted, a problem that we are already (and tragically) buying into on too many other fronts.

At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After the big PA Thing, Squidi clearly stated that if you used his characters for avatars, unaltered, he didn't have any problems with that. In fact, his special features page features a couple dozen avatars for people to link to or use as MSN icons. He also didn't have any problems with people creating new avatars by modifying his work, as long as they had '' on them.

What he did have problem with was people taking his work, modifying it, and taking credit for it. These PA avatars gave him no credit as initial creator at all, and the guy who made them refused to give Squidi credit (at the time - he later apologized). You may not think that avatars constitute publishing, but the PA forums have more registered readers than had daily readership - more people had the chance to see the uncredited and modified artwork than his comic. He just wanted credit and I don't think you can condem that attitude in the least, regardless of your views on the oppressiveness of copyright law.

At 8:19 PM, Blogger Glenn said...

I agree that Squidi deserved to be given credit as a common courtesy. I just don't believe he should have legal recourse to force the issue. In addition, Tubesteak was making squidi-derived forum avatars for other people, which is certainly much closer to publishing in the traditional sense.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Bill D91 said...

OK, I see the point that the characters were derived from the graphical style. I was thinking they were the actual characters rendered slightly differently.
But I think squidi and whomever anonymous commenter is has it backwards. Style is not copyrightable (though I agree it would have been appropriate to acknowledge where the icon maker derived his style).
Squidi SHOULD have had more trouble with people using his unaltered characters as avatars since that's what copyright is about... exclusive right to distribute your own IP in its own formulation. He shouldn't have any right to stop someone aping the style (though, again, common courtesy says you acknowledge where you get it). There's simply no copyrighting of style nor should there be.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Glenn said...

Right, and this is one area where Squidi ran into real trouble because his medium of choice is pixel art. In many mediums style is more clearly seperable from content, but in pixel art, that simply isn't so. In order to do a character in Squidi's style, one needs to put certain pixels in certain places, use a certain set of pixel dimensions, and conform to certain characteristics such as head size, body style, perspective on the character, and yes, relative size, position, and shape of the infamous "squidi feet". In fact, in order to exercise your right to do something in the same style, you will need to do something that is pixel for pixel congruent in some places, otherwise it isn't really in the same style at all.

Squidi, btw, vehemently disagrees on this point, and though we argued about it in a forum somewhere, in the end neither of us gave any ground. Though I gather he understands that style can't be copyrighted, he feels that any duplication of his style that involves pixel-for-pixel congruency in some regions goes beyond style into actual infringement.

At 5:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are absolutely wrong about the limitations of pixel art. A simple examination of screenshots from the SNES and Genesis, which were limited in far more ways that Squidi was, will show you a rather significant variety. Even you must agree that a Sonic sprite doesn't look like a MegaMan sprite doesn't look like Mario doesn't look like Pokemon doesn't look like Bubsy, and you can very definitely tell what game sprites a sprite comic used as a template (be it Final Fantasy or MegaMan), no matter how editted they may be - and many of those are SMALLER than Squidi's work!! If you put a River City Ransom sprite next to Squidi's characters, you'll see that it is only HALF THE SIZE.

Your claims that pixel art is too simple and not unique flies in the face of years of identifiable world icons like Sonic and Mario that are more recognizable than Mickey Mouse these days. It's an absurd assumption that even brief research would disprove almost immediately.

At 6:42 PM, Blogger Glenn said...

I made no such claim. Pixel art is clearly an experessive medium, protectable by copyright, and I have not stated otherwise. No where have I stated that it was simple or insufficiently unique. You clearly haven't read what has been written here carefully. In fact, you're obviously carrying a lot of baggage to this discussion from other discussions on this issue. What I did say was that pixel art conflates the concepts of style and content to a greater degree than other mediums.

Megaman, Sonic and Mario do look different, but they are in different styles. Style is not, as Bill rightly pointed out, protected by copyright. If I wanted to do a sprite of a charcter that was stylisticly similar to a Megaman sprite, I can do so, and it is non-infringing. Similarly, if I wanted to make a Mickey Mouse-like character and drew it in the style of Mickey Mouse, that would be non infringing. In order to do so, I might lay an illustration of Mickey Mouse next to my drawing board, and study it while drawing the eyes, feet, hands, etc. In fact, the result of this, so long as it wasn't actually Mickey, would be new content, with my copyright, in a similar style.

But no effort on my part would cause a set of lines drawn to look like Mickey Mouse's eye to actually be the same lines. It would just be a very similar set of lines. Pixels, however, are discrete and absolute. a line drawn with pixels is always exactly the same if it uses the same pixels in the same pattern. If I sit down with Squidi's characters and use them for a style reference, it is inevitable that many of my pixels are going to end up in exactly the same places as his, especially if I'm trying to draw into the same pixel-dimension rectangle. This is a problem that is nearly unique to pixel art. (Though I imagine it is shared by cross-stitch pattern makers.)

Now, on another note, this is not a public forum, it is a blog which allows comments. I allow anonymous posting here because I am interested in hearing what people have to say, but I do expect them to actually have read what was written and thought about it first. Especially if they're going to argue. Please take this into consideration before you post further, because any further knee-jerk posts on this entry will be deleted without response.

At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here I'd almost given up hope of rational sane people existing with something to say on the subject.

That's a good point, about style. I'm not entirely sure how it works now, but there should be a system in place where, if a person's style is particularly unique, anyone using that exact style should make mention of the origional somewhere in the work or on the page. If you could plop your avatar in a background and get a Squidi comic that feels like Squidi, you should have to give props to the man himself, you know? I mean, what if he wanted to draw something that looked almost exactly like your avatar only you beat him to it? You'd be taking away a part of his ability to produce the comic because that character is now your intellectual property, and that seems wrong

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article Glenn.

Corporations are awful constructs, especially in regards to copyright, hoarding, and litigation powers. The who's and what's of Sean Howard's battle for protection of his works aren't as important as illumination of the issue of inequality between entities and individuals. But I've been following Squidi from the beginning, so I'll be recounting some of the issues as I respond to the general theme of your article.

Squidi's first arguement was not as consequential in this discussion, but I'll bring it up since it segues nicely. Sean first argued semantics over the terminology by which his work was labeled. His position was that he was authoring a 'Pixel Art Comic'. He differentiated himself from the term 'Sprite Art Comic', which many others in the comic and pixel art communities recognized as a derogatory term. The reason he put this out there was because the other well known 'Sprite Art Comics' up until that point were created using sprites taken out of commercial video game titles, originally produced roughly a decade earlier. From what I can tell, Squaresoft has not made any fuss about the 8-bit theater comic, which was the first prevalent work that was ripping graphics for its own use. I could be wrong though, as I don't follow internet comics very seriously.

The point was brought up that one must follow up on 'infringement' in order to validate a claim, and that there is a period in which an author's rights expire. In the case of viewership on Penny Arcade's forum outcasting Squidi's own site traffic, the dynamics in the level of publicity had great potential in diminishing a clarity about his rights as the author.

As with trademarks, their original intent was to avoid brand confusion within the same industry, and people of a particular industry tend to know at least a little about what's going on in their field in order to spot a potential problem. With the internet, it is ambiguous as to not only the confines of an industry, but of geographic or virtual location, and the level with which a work may be considered public, or published, whether it's personal use in your private residence, or in a 'proprietary' internet environment, such as visual chat application. Seems like too many variables to judge!

Many people are at the mercy of being too small to notice, or lack the funds to litigate. And even if they did follow up on an infringement, the returns may not justify the cost and effort required to take action.

We can generally agree/assume that public and published are the same. A private property can be maintained for public use, such as in an artist hosting a gallery from their residence, or in the case of a wholly private club where terms of participation may be present. Stadiums, for sports or entertainment, often take measures against 'unauthorized' reproduction of accounts or media of the event. It tends to be the Corporations who do much more to restrict use.

And corporations often maintain copyright and patent without actually making use of it, but on occasion they must assert ownership and show active use when the competition promotes a product they believe infringes on their rights to some degree. In the recent, and silly issue of Microsoft and Apple's patent issues regarding iPod technology, both companies made attempts to patent the technology, both encountering rejections during the approval process, and Apple clearly made use of the technology without any apparent objection by Microsoft. I am not completely clear on the facts of this case, but the general outline seems to be fairly clear: Due to 'showing their homework' by developing and bringing to market the iPod, Apple appears to be in the clear since Microsoft did not make use of the technology they patented. The point of patents was to keep exclusive rights for a period of time to profit on a technology which a group created, or claimed. But now corporations patent left and right, because they can afford to.

I ultimately dislike the way patents, trademarks, and copyrights have been used to strangle the freedom of art and ideas, so I'm rather indifferent about what has been called 'sabre rattling' among these two large corporations. It would be much more pleasant if corporations were gone altogether, or otherwise classify them as second class to individuals as they should be, so that individuals and their businesses might have an opportunity, but any more legislation here is going to make things worse.

Many news outlets touted that Apple was in serious trouble, and that they had a major failure because they did not successfully patent their technology, but Apple did make attempts. Unfortunately most of these outlets did not get into the actual details of the story, which is misinformation via ignorance, and can perpetuate problems to unjust court outcomes.

In the case of Squidi, public opinion had the potential to derail his business opportunities, however he did more to damage his own efforts. The civility between Sean and PA ended rather hastily, and the publishing of Sean's private discussions with the PA authors attracted the trolls from both PA and Squidi's forums. While some of his actions have been bad, he's at least gone through the effort of speaking out and protecting his work.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets take a look at style, and pixels.

I am a pixel artist, and I ran the forum which Squidi was a member at. For the sake of this discussion, you can consider me a specialist. Some court decisions come down to specialists, and not all of my colleagues will agree with every point I make, so you can take my opinions as you'd like. Squidi tried to get our forum involved in one of his semantics debates once, proverbially twisting arms to escalate the situation, and I stated that sprite art and pixel art as terms to define his work were both acceptable. The term 'ripping' had been clearly defined in the culture for some time so there was no problem discerning that what they were doing was morally questionable, but he would not accept any opinions but those that agreed with him. He showed his stubborn position early on, so I'm not surprised you had a similar outcome in talking to him Glenn.

"The avatars weren't actually any of Squidi's characters. They were original avatars based on the pixel art of squidi's characters."

That's defining the term 'original' too loosely. Derivative, technically true...

"In this case, none of squidi's actual illustrations were used at all. Certain elements were clearly used, but were often recolored, redrawn, or tweaked. Other elements were completely original, and the gestalt was mostly something new in each case, just something that resembled Squidi in style. But even assuming that they had been wholesale copies, there's another issue that really needs to be addressed, and it's one I which I think you need to seriously adjust your thinking."

You cannot prove that his actual illustrations were used or not in casual observance, and that's one of the notable issues here. While elements may have been carried over, they may have been redrawn anew, but given that people tend to follow the path of least resistance, it's likely that his works were modified directly to create the 'derivative work'. Still, if we go by 'possession is 9/10 of the law', then it is Squidi's burden to prove his case against those who possess or possibly claim authorship of works stated to be derivative or otherwise, and that often means bringing in an objective specialist.

While style cannot be copyrighted, it does weigh in on such an issue. One can critique the qualities of pixel art without an opinion on style, but an expert will be able to differentiate between minute details that identify an author's handiwork.

"My position on this is pretty clear. You ought to be able to use Mickey Mouse as your forum avatar."

I agree. Many times, the spirit of the law is abandoned in sake of a Judge or litigant's ability to stretch the law to suit their personal objective. If Disney asks you specifically to not wear such an avatar, they're going to have a hell of a time enforcing it. When avatars become outlawed... :P

"He just wanted credit and I don't think you can condem that attitude in the least, regardless of your views on the oppressiveness of copyright law."

Yes. There were other instances, which Squidi alludes to when he mentions having sites shut down, in which people were taking his works, possibly modifying them, and using them for their own comics, some of which intended to turn a profit. Squidi's reaction, however, was absurd. After the PA incident, and further theft of his work, Sean chose to no longer publish new comics as long as the offending parties were allowed to exist. He was thoroughly consumed with the crusade to 'defend' his work.

The finite nature of pixel art means that the size of a work correlates to the potential of diversity. A sprite of 32x32 has a huge number of possible variations based on pixel configuration. Go larger, and you're getting into astronomical possibilities for variety.

However, in the conventions of pixel art as intended for use in video games, or works derived from video game styles, there are certain standards of practice by which artists may construct similar works, however because of this fact, we understand there is a greater chance for some likeness and tolerate similarities. This is common in other industries, where conventions on a general shape and look of an aluminum soda can are used among competing businesses. Old Final Fantasy character sprites are template based. Templating is not the ONLY way that style can be identified, but it is recognized to present opportunities for the identification of new styles. Isometrics are a recognized series of geometries that, in pixel art and drawing in general, can be used to create the illusion of perspective, which may suggest something about the style of a pixel work to some extent, but are wholly grounded on basic principles of design and methodology that cannot be considered style, or copyrighted, as they are not actual works.

It's clear that the more exposure your work gets, the more likely the style will become standardized and used by others over time, provided the popularity is more than just a fad. It's the price of fame. To his credit, while Squidi is in a niche environment of creating finite art, within this confine he is developing a 'franchise'. And to that end, he ought to receive credit due. This goes back to the crux of the matter. He doesn't have the power of a big corporation, but he is trying to play by the rules which Corporations have distorted for their own self interest, so one can't help feel sorry for the position he is in as an individual confronting the inequity that is part of a larger problem.

In the potentially infinite universe we reside in, the finite nature of pixel art is even more starkly homogenized. It's quite possible that within the realm of the pixel arts, a person is able to create a fighter sprite matching, or near matching that of a frame from a Capcom Street Fighter II sprite. If one were to publish this work, whether it be as an artwork for printed display, or even in their own fighter genre video game, would Capcom have the right to sue for such a similar or exact likeness? Would the chance for successful litigation be dependent upon how much money and lawyers you can throw at someone? Probably... Disney made out well in their situation.

Furthermore, it's difficult to replicate an entire game, compared to creating an identical single frame of a sprite animation. 'Clones' of action puzzle games tend to be the popular thing out there now, though, and not unlike is it as fan-fiction is to a franchise, but they are not impeded upon since the technical defining factor in software tends to be the code with which the software was written. However, what's to stop a company, whom you've created a coincidental work of, in which they have precedent, upon seeing multiple frames of your work which ARE original designs of yours, from creating additional frames that mirror your own work in order to pixel-block you out of precedent as a means to usurp your authorship? Granted, it may be absurd, but copyrights in themselves can be abused in such a way.

To further muddy the water for you, I will add the following: Pixel art is often used to express a great deal of information in a confined, finite space. In any such mosaic work, there is a possible sacrifice of realism for impressionism. What is a patch of red pixels on one work of pixel art may be a headband or ribbon atop a girl's head, but could in someone else's eyes be a patch of blood spurting out if the definition is not clear enough. Interpretation and intent CAN be argued even among such a finite medium as pixel art. Pixel art is a great example of a medium within which copyright law reaches its limits and gives up rather quickly in some cases. To this, my position is that Pixel Art is not a medium in which it is sufficiently acceptable to litigate, and thus we must rely on the word of experts, which may not be ideal. Copyright may violate the spirit of Pixel Art and its practitioners more overtly. Literature and slogan are comparable topics.

In order to prove a case for the authorship of a work, style must be recognized as a deciding factor among specialists, and size of a pixel work too shall gauge how free one is to interpret detail. It is difficult to argue against the artist's interpretation when the expert can't tell themselves. Graphic arts that go beyond the scope of pixel-level intent and detail tend to escape this twilight zone as the tools that created such works, whether it be a scanned photograph, an airbrush in a graphics application, a digital photograph, or computer generated image, are typically not by the author's intent pixel-finite.

As pixel art becomes larger and watermarks are considered, it is possible for an author to argue against possible theft of work by questioning the intent of pixels which appear seemingly out of place based on the formulaic style present in a work. Experts can usually identify a mistake; a misplaced pixel, from something else: A watermark consisting of a pattern of very dark pixels interlaced into black outlines of a work can be telling, and incriminating as well. Most people who steal the works of others do so because it's easy and/or because they are inferior artists. Placing sophisticated watermarks and the ability to exhibit that you possess similar works can work in your favor. Sometimes identifying fraudulent uses of your work can be as simple as a poor artist not being able to tell the difference between a very dark color and black, as their screen gamma may prevent them from discerning the difference if they don't actually look at the statistics/palette in order to identify this other color is present.

I have not read up on any actual cases in which Pixel Art was the focus of a court case, if there are any at all (I'm going to search for some), but I'm otherwise confident with the specifics I've drawn out here. Hope this is was useful.


At 9:17 AM, Blogger Glenn said...

Hey Pep.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting so thoughtfully. (I think your comment is noticably longer than my post!)


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