Check out this article from Newsarama!

Copyright issues are a real bitch, aren’t they?

Take this recent semi-scandal between comic book artists Ben & Ray Lai and MIT. The Lai brothers put out a comic through Image a while ago called “Radix,” starring a hot chick in battle armor with mystical powers. Later on, they were surprised when an image that was an obvious swipe of their cover for issue #1 was all over the news as a conceptualization for a real-world, $50 million “Soldier of the Future” contract that MIT successfully won with the US Army.

The Lais were understandably upset to see that their artwork was used without their permission, and immediately issued a cease and desist to MIT to have them take the image down from their project website

MIT obliged, saying they had no idea the artist they commissioned had swiped the images, but the Lais aren’t satisfied. They claim that the very existence of this image calls into question their ownership of the armor design, which has hurt their chances to cash in on the Hollywood buying frenzy of comic book properties that kicked off when the Spider-Man movie turned out to be such a big hit.

But it’s also clear that there is some bitterness involved, considering that their art was used as part of a $50 million winning proposal, and they won’t be seeing any of that cash.
So the Lais are currently speaking with their lawyers… exploring their “options”…

What a mess!

First off, the proposal was in the area of 100 pages long. One would hope that the decision makers at the Army didn’t just look at the drawing and rubber-stamp their approval right away. What, did the competition all use stick figures? For all we know, the competition wrote Luis Royo a fat check to paint a mural of their super soldiers.

Second, it’s not like the armor design is the most original one ever made. It has basically the same lines as a typical superhero outfit, only it’s bulkier and made of metal rather than spandex. This is exactly the kind of design I used to crank out every day when I was a kid. I’m not saying there is nothing unique to Radix (since I’ve never read it) but if there is, it’s definitely not the armor design. The same goes for the specific pose and detail of the artwork. It’s nothing you don’t see every day on the stands.

Third, there is no doubt who owns the armor design, since neither MIT nor the Army is contesting the allegation that the art was swiped (any more). So if Hollywood isn’t pounding down the Lais’ door now, it’s because they’ve found some other hot chick in battle armor to make a movie about.

Fourth, it was an honest mistake (at least for those at the top). One of the faculty members commissioned his daughter to do the drawing based on his description, and she’s the one who used Photoshop to composite scans from Radix #1 into the final art. Before the bid was won, the art was only seen by a handful of people. It wasn’t until the news broke that anybody saw it, and it wasn’t until they got the “cease and desist” that anybody even knew there was an infringement, and at that point they stopped using the image (at least at MIT).

So, all that said, it was still plagiarism. Would this be treated the same if the bid had been lost and only those involved in the bidding process had ever seen it? The big money and the news blitz cloud the issue, but at its core it was still one artist using the work of another artist and putting her own name on it.

If this were the People’s Court, I would probably have the artist give her commission to the Lais and call it a day.

Here’s an interview transcript from CNN with one the Lai brothers.

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