MLK Drama!

16 01 2009

So the head of my department at work just came down to our office to explain some interesting graphic design related drama…

Earlier this week, a coworker of mine designed a large poster to be placed in the lobby of our building, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The design had an American flag in the background with a photograph of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, alongside with quotes from each. The poster is also quite huge. 

Now, there apparently was a lot of drama about this poster, after it was already made and set up. Apparently there were numerous reasons why this poster was illegal. (Woah.) They are:

– So as a Graphics Department, our design work is free, but there was some money that was used to print the poster out. However there was no “accounting stream” for any department to print the poster.  The poster(s) could have been printed under the education or teaching departments; those which would make it ok to print with such funding. But because it was printed and funded for with the Graphic Department’s own money, it then becomes an issue of misappropriated funds.

– Apparently we (the Graphics Dept.) have set ourselves up for lawsuit to use MLK Jr.’s image without permission. But the image of his face is to represent the holiday, not the person, specifically. However, with such a touchy and vague intellectual property issue, here it also depends on each person’s interpretation of the appropriate usage.

 I feel like this is the most interesting and surprising reason for why this gesture is against the law. How apparently the Martin Luther King Foundation and family restricts the use of MLKJr.’s face for public use. Meanwhile, us, Graphic Designers thought his face was part of Public Domain use. This issue is very much related to the work and thoughts of Andy Warhol. [How come Andy Warhol could get away with the reproduction of celebrities’ images? I doubt it was with their permission every time…]

– Then there is the issue about how the posters are already created and they are illegal, so they then have to be correctly “disposed” of. The posters can not be given away to anyone. They can not be thrown away, because someone could still find it. The posters could be shredded or burned. But could the posters be given away to the Martin Luther King Jr. library for their personal use? Maybe….we’re not sure.

All in all, quite an interesting and dramatic issue at stake.




One response

16 01 2009

wow! Nice article: made me think.

I think Warhol got away with what he did because the images were transformative: they said something unique about the celebrity being portrayed. MLK’s image as it was used on the poster wasn’t transformative: it was using MLK’s image to evoke MLK’s image. Warhol was commenting on celebrity. Also, I think nobody got too upset to have their image on a Warhol because he was so popular. It’s only a suit if somebody gets mad.

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