June 4, 2010
What’s up with this? While tuned into a nice ballgame the other night, I happened to catch a weird disclaimer at the end of an AT&T commercial:
“The artists Christo and Jean Claude have no direct or indirect affiliation or involvement with AT&T.”
My “Litigious Society Meter” started going berserk. Hadn’t really crossed my mind that the famous wrappers had any direct involvement in the spot, so I did a little digging. Apparently some folks raised a little stink claiming that the idea of computer generated orange fabric covering a bunch of landmarks, buildings and landscape was a blatent rip-off of the aforementioned artists who made a career of doing exactly that. Turns out Christo’s lawyers got involved (Jean Claude recently died) and the result was the goofy language added at the end of the spot.
All this got me thinking: Do Christo and Jean Claude own the artistic idea of wrapping things in orange cloth any more than the first caveman who smeared pigment on a wall can lay claim to the concept of painting? And why not add to the disclaimer some language about the “direct or indirect affiliation or involvement” of Eero Saarinen, the architect who designed the St. Louis Arch, which appears at the beginning of the spot? Finally, why doesn’t the disclaimer note the indirect involvement of Nick Drake, the brilliant, late singer whose work classes up the commercial?
I’ll leave it to my friends in IP law to draw the bright lines for us. (That’s you, Duets.) As someone who makes his living being creative, I believe everything is derivative. I don’t need a disclaimer to know that without Muddy Waters, we might not have the Rolling Stones. Or without Billy “White Shoes” Johnson we might not have Chad Ochocinco. Or without Christo, we might not have AT&T challenging us to imagine an orange-fabric-clad world.
Whenever I come up with what I think is a completely original concept, I am fully prepared to learn that it’s been done before. I like to think I have completely original thoughts and ideas, but the truth is that creativity is informed by what we’ve seen and done. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before. We build on ideas. We pay homage. We cross-pollinate. We reference to create meaning.
And then we wait for the cease and desist order.
Disclaimer: Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, Chad Ochocinco, Truman Capote, Alexander Hamilton, George Hamilton, Charo, Jose Offerman, Carlton Fisk, Sartre, and Bill Goldsworthy have no direct or indirect affiliation with the Idea Peepshow.