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Re: GSP statement on use of my dinosaur restorations (more follow up)
More on the useful discussion on this subject.
One line of thought badly needs nipping in the bud. The one that goes that,
well, lots of dinoart used to be “influenced” by Knight, Burian and
Zallinger so what is wrong with being derivative? It cannot be overemphasized
the Knight et al derivative stuff was largely an enormous rip off of these
artists, and set a bad trend in paleoart. It’s a dysfunctional precedent
that actually illustrates the problems with derivative art.
I copied a lot of other paleoartists when I was a kid. But this was merely
learning the art at the private level, which is standard practice (in art
classes copying the masters is a basic learning technique). By my late teens I
became very original in my work (even before the dinorevolution, you have
not seen much of this stuff because it is not usable). In other words, even
if dinosaurs were still being portrayed as they were up to the 60s my work
would be original, not derivative.
And I am expecting the same of today’s paleoartists.
There is also a basic problem with being derivative that may not be obvious
up front. The problem of perpetuating errors. Perhaps if folks had not been
ripping off Knight et al then all the mistakes they made would not have
become part of the paleoart gestalt that held back the genre for so long. More
on this below.
On line of questioning has it that if it is not OK to use my scientific
skeletal restorations, then does that not lead to a slippery slope in which any
published images including the bones published in technical paper are out
of bounds, forcing anyone who wishes to illustrate dinosaurs to go to
exhibits and take their own photos of the bones?
Of course this is obviously true. So you all beef up your travel budgets!
Ha, had you going there for a second, didn’t I. Now, it is true that some
dinosaur exhibits prohibit photography for proprietary reasons (which is why
photographs of a few major mounted skeletons have never appeared). In a few
cases I have had to make special arrangements to use a mounted skeleton as
the basis of a skeletal restoration. Therefore, because most institutions do
not restrict the use of their displays as sources paleoart does not mean
that artists’ skeletal restorations are in turn open source material for anyone
to exploit without the right’s owner’s protection. In other words, when
museums do not place restrictions on the image use of their mounts they are
waiving their copyrights at least in part.
As far as I know no scientist objects to the images of skeletal elements
and mounts that appear in their academic publications being used by
illustrators. If any do, they can mention it in the their papers. So this worry
moot, because no one objects.
Where things get dicey is if an original skeletal restoration is in an
academic paper. Strictly speaking, it is an original copyrighted image and
should not use it as a major source without first contacting the owner of
the rights and getting permission and paying a fee if required. Now, most
such skeletal restorations are done by persons who for one reason do not care
if others use them for their own purposes, and might even be bothered with
having to respond to pesky queries. But doing so without permission entails
risk. What if one way or another your image derived without permission gets
used in a commercial product down the line (which they copied from your image
without your permission but it gets traced back to you) and there are suits
filed by the original artist and so on. Uh-oh. Always best to first get
permission. Or do your own original image from the get go.
(Concerning my restorations being “scientific” in the manner of fossil
illustrations in the technical literature, the fact is that many if not most
have first been published in popular works including PDW and The Field Guide
rather than technical publications.)
I happily avoid the above difficulty by doing my own skeletons, which I
began to do in my current style back in 80 or so. Keep me out of trouble. And
this brings us back to the problem of perpetuating errors. The other reason I
do my own stuff is because I early on realized that other’s skeletons are
almost always errant, often in proportions, bone details (why so many are so
often not able to get the basic bone shapes right is beyond me, there are
copiers and computers you know) and posture. And I have been complaining a lot
about how almost all muscle profiles are not in line with bioreality (I
reemphasize that the basic muscle profile technique is not even original to me
and I have no say in anyone else using it).
So if you are using others skeletal restorations it’s a good bet you are
perpetuating their errors. So do your own scientific skeletomuscle
restorations and avoid those pesky mistakes. If you do not have the knowledge
know when you are perpetuating or making errors then perhaps this is not the
best business to be in, leave it up to the experts like us.
Here is another example of perpetuating errors by being derivative. There
was a fellow who did some skeletal restorations back in the 80s. He did some
things not longer considered correct, including orientation of the hands in
bipedal dinosaurs, and forefeet too close to one another. Even today some
who derive their art from these skeletons are making the same errors. It is a
sad thing to behold. The skeletal restoration were by that Greg Paul fellow,
who has altered all his images since then. Ergo, I don’t perpetuate the
mistakes made by GP back then since I correct them.
You know, you just can’t trust anybody. Really, you can’t.
One lister cited field guides as an example of acceptable derivation. Nein.
Back in the last century I saw a documentary on the creation of bird field
guides. It emphasized how each one requires extensive original research by
the artist. Not only to avoid being too like previous guides (to avoid
copyright issues, and to make the new product novel enough for birders to want
chuck the old guide), but to avoid perpetuating errors (the ground breaking
original Peterson guides are literally outdated in this regard).
Most on the list have supported my position to a greater or lesser degree.
And it appears that this is becoming a topic at the Guild of Biological
Science Illustrators, to the point they are bringing up the issue with
institutions that have been utilizing derivative art.
But some have disagreed, and are basically saying that those who go to
tremendous effort to build up a body of technical artistic work have to allow
all others to derive much of their art from that work. This is based on the
idea that accurate restorations are the “truth” like photographs of lions and
elephants. This is errant for legal and practical reasons. Starting with no
one has to do work restoring living animals.
Also, in legal terms how does one establish what is scientifically
accurate? Say two skilled professional paleoartists restore the skeleton of the
species and they come out quite different. Say someone derives their image
of the species from one of the images, and the original creator of that
image objects. The derivative artist then claims that since the original
skeleton represents “scientific truth” anyone can utilize it? How is going to
legally determined that that specific image really is scientifically “true”,
and more so than the other image? There are scientists who have criticized
the accuracy of my work. Again, best to stick to doing your own
Then there are the practical financial problems, and issues with fairness.
Some who do the occasional skeletal restoration and don’t care if other use
it don’t care because they derive little or none of their income from their
art, being employed at a university or the like.
I have often been asked why I do not have a degreed position at a
university or museum. And I am also often praised for having done around 250
restorations, a fair portion in multiple view (no other large group of
extinct vertebrates has been so thoroughly covered, although Anton may be
getting there with mammals). This is actually odd in that the two concepts are
compatible. If I were dealing with administrative tasks, money raising and
dealing with students I could not have built up such a body or art. To look
at another way, has anyone with a salaried job done a body of paleoart
comparable to mine including so many skeletons? Ergo, doing so much art
me from having a position. It is one or the other, and that means I have to
derive my income from the art.
Consider my restoration of my favorite dinosaur, Giraffatitan. It is very
distinctive, being much more gracile and defined than most restorations which
are lumpy and inaccurate (am still ticked off by the JP example). Every
time I see one of the errant restorations in a documentary or exhibit I grit my
teeth, but hey at least they are not copying me. If on the other hand
someone using my restoration without my being compensated uses my elegant and
superior version I am being taken advantage of.
Since we live in the most economically Darwinistic and libertarian 1st
world nation this is not workable. Unfortunately derivative such use of my
restorations has gotten so out of hand that it is becoming difficult to get
and other forms of income because of competition from those deriving much of
their paleoart from mine. It has become ridiculous. That is why I have had
to put out the please cease and desist notice.
To put it in less personal terms, let us assume someone produces an
exceptionally large body of paleoart that is widely seen as the best produced.
anyone really think that it should be possible for so many others to derive
a large portion of their paleoart from the original artist that she is no
longer able to earn the compensation needed to sustain her efforts? Only if
you think that is OK can you object to my actions. If you do not think it is
OK then it is not logical to object to my actions.
The now iconic left foot pushing off pose has become a widely recognized GP
brand. This does not mean that others’ dinosaurs can never be posed this
way, if it is merely occasional that’s OK.
Some other artists on the list have to a degree basically waived some of
their copyrights by stating that others can use their illustrations as source
guides. Nothing wrong with that, but that is their personal decision and
does not mean that others need to do the same.
This discussion and issue have become a major topic among some societies
and guilds, and addresses important issues that involve major institutions and
ethics. This looks like a subject that should be covered by the scientific
press – plenty of folks can be interviewed, the practices of institutions
And I appreciate Scott Hartman’s actions.