Jay Maisel's building tagged with "Kind of Bloop" cover art


According to this Hyperallergic blog post citing an anonymous source, someone in New York City paid someone else to plaster the building where photographer Jay Maisel lives with posters featuring an adaptation of Maisel's iconic Miles Davis photograph.

Over a pixelated reworking of the photo, the text, "All Art is Theft."

Short version of the backstory: Maisel recently threatened Andy Baio with legal action over Baio's similarly adaptive use of this same photo for Baio's "Kind of Bloop" 8-bit homage, and Baio ended up having to pay Maisel $32,500 to settle the matter.

(via Anil Dash)


  1. I’m pretty sick of this Maisel guy already. What else has he ever done for humanity, besides this one “iconic” photo of Miles Davis? Is he an artist or just another asshole copyright troll?

    1. I don’t defend or condone his actions, but a simple google search will reveal that he’s a very talented photographer. What exactly have *you* done for humanity?

      1. Well, for one, *I* haven’t sued some guy for using a photo I took 30 or 40 years ago.

        And Jack, I don’t see anyone agreeing with me. Maybe I’m just too tired and should have a little shuteye. :)

        1. We’re all out to get you. Don’t sleep! That’s the only way we can definitely get you!!!

    1. I cannot thank you enough for that link. It has lots of great info that folks, especially around here, need to read.

      Too bad that the comments on that page are closed, though. I really wanted to respond to a fellow named Pierce who took it too far and said: “Copyright, as an idea, is meant to protect the income of artists.”

      Let me be clear; I believe that Maisel was firmly in the right in this case in a legal sense and probably in the right morally. Notwithstanding that, however, the mistaken notion that copyright exists solely to ensure that artists get paid is far too widespread among the type of folks who would generally be aghast at the BoingBoing comments on this case.

      There is a middle ground. As a former photographer (from a long time ago) and former aware-of-how-the-perceptions-are-changing tech guy (retired less than a month ago) who is considering re-entering photography, it grieves me that smart, creative people on both sides don’t see that all their interests can be fairly protected.

      Too much shouting at each other. Too little listening.

  2. Jake, chill out.

    As far as this building goes, I don’t think what they did was that “punk” at all since 190 Spring Street—the very well known building Maisel has lived in since 1966—has been a very well known street art/graffiti spot for decades. Maybe in the 1980s it was “edgy” to tag up the old building, but nowadays it’s really played out. So much so I seriously doubt the story that someone was “paid” to do this; anyone in the world can go to that building and stick whatever they want up there and there’s never an issue.

    Not justifying suing someone for $32,500. But let’s get some perspective on this “action.”

    1. My original questions still stand. I really don’t care about the building being tagged. I just have to wonder about a guy who would go after someone who use an EXTREMELY derivative copy of his work from 40 years ago. He seems like a jerk to me. That’s all I’m saying.

  3. Miles is playing live at the Apollo Theater in the photo, in case anyone was wondering. . . .

  4. Please, if art is theft then property is certainly theft, and I’m coming over to your Mission Victorian, I’m squatting in it, and I’m gonna charge admission to the Bacchanalian puke-fests I’ll be throwing there. Seriously, if you want to steal someone’s work, don’t call it your own. And if you want to steal it and distribute it, then give it away for free. Simple. Anything else is pure capitalistic and ego-opportunism, wrapped up in some fantasy of no one ever needing to earn money. That works at Burning Man. And all y’all charge admission to those fundraisers to make that “free” art. If you want to take my photo and “re-work” it, then why not ask me first? Why not offer me a credit? Afraid I’ll say ‘no’? Well then, move on. While you’re wasting time calling me an asshole, someone else is out there actually being creative.

  5. Great photograph of street art. I love the tag by PandaSex in the upper left hand corner.

  6. I once used a classic image of Brit psych-beat producer Joe Meek in a small series of paintings. I was contacted soon after by the the original photographer (a Mr Clive Bubley) who was known and still is known for his voracious efforts to wrench payment for photo usage. At first Mr. Bubley was direct and harsh, but with some talk and a bit of love we settled on a fair price for limited usage. Mostly he was concerned with people knowing it was he who took the photo and he was adamant that users of his work give him due credit

    That’s all any artist, photographer or musican wants – some respect and acknowledgment,
    and money too, I suppose if it comes. I’m on the side of Mr. Maisel. Kids these days have no respect, I tell ya.

  7. That’s the point though, I shouldn’t have to offer you credit if I rework it. The clever thing about that slogan, which you apparently missed, is the double play on the word theft. It’s mocking the idea that all art is a legal crime (theft) and implying that all art is derivative, taken from something else. Everyone has influences, and that’s fine. Now we might disagree on whether this was a transformative work or not (I think it was, obviously) but you seem to be attacking the very idea of whether things can be transformative at all.

    As an example of some works that take someone else’s work as an influence and change it I’d give you Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup can, The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU5Dn-WaElI (a link to a video showing the samples used to mix it), and any film using a Dolly Zoom first developed by Irmin Roberts.

    Also are you the same emvee from b3ta? You should know a fair bit about transformative works given that virtually everything produced on the boards there is one.

    1. No Azaner, not the same emvee. And no, I don’t have an original bone in my body, for which I’m quite thankful because no one could relate to me, and vice versa. Everything is transformative. But where the transformation is obvious, the creator owes some respect to his muse, her source, whatever…and, even if it’s not obvious, is not the archaeology of the original a rewarding journey? (Obviously, I find ffffound both fascinating and offensive given that there’s no story behind the pictures, merely ‘hey look at me, look at what I find!’).

      No, a “transformer” doesn’t “have” to offer me credit, especially in this digital age. I simply think it’s the decent thing to do. Elvis owed nearly everything to African American music, and he acknowledged, even celebrated his debt. On the best of days, what happens in music is not only transformative, but collaborative. Hip hop shouldn’t always have to pay for samples, but when they identify their sources, my appreciation deepens. Your example of the Prodigy track is on the opposite end of the spectrum of this case, and dare I say Fairey. It’s a fine example of creating a new musical instrument using the entire field of music itself. Aside from the UMC’s sample, everything has gone down a rabbit hole and emerged as a nearly untraceable element of an original work. If Baio had used an eyebrow from Maisel’s image to make 10% of another image, then I would call that truly transformative, without any reason for attribution. And still, attribution in that case would not only be interesting, but also respectful.

  8. To equate art with theft is the grossest of oversimplified rationalizations.

    Worse still, it sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy, because in today’s digital world it is easier than ever before in human history for a budding “artist” to completely rip off someone else’s work, instantly, without leaving their couch, and yet actually believe it to be their own. (“Everyone else is sampling and stealing, and they call themselves artists, so I’m one, too!”)

    All artists build upon elements, developments, and the work of others that came before them. That’s a given. But of the artists you most admire, do you often look at their work and say, “if I squint a bit, it appears identical to something I’ve already seen”? Because that’s exactly what you can say about Baio’s offering.

    Baio’s “work” is this case is indeed theft, but it’s freakishly backward to conclude, therefore, that all art is theft, in a feeble attempt to create logic that supports Baio. I suspect anyone who finds themselves actually hating Maisel (really?) is probably uncomfortable, not so deep inside, about how thoroughly unoriginal their own product is, and too chicken to face it.

  9. If your work of art is “iconic,” you’ve been paid generously with credibility. Spend that credibility on something worthwhile, like making your fortune or creating better art. Not shakedowns.

    Also, if your work is famous for being the packaging on a musical masterpiece someone more important created, you’re living off second-hand prestige.

    1. Also, if your work is famous for being the packaging on a musical masterpiece someone more important created, you’re living off second-hand prestige.

      This. The photo is iconic because Miles Davis is iconic. Only a few could mention the photographer’s name.

      1. Also, if your work is famous for being the packaging on a musical masterpiece someone more important created, you’re living off second-hand prestige.

        Interesting take on it…

        Maisel made art by reworking an icon (Davis) into his own vision (the photo), and that photo itself became iconic.

        Why is it not ok for someone else to make art by reworking that new icon (the photo) into their own vision?

  10. Its funny how everyone is playing ‘Poor’ Baio off against ‘Rich’ Maisel…did everyone forget that Andy sold off several businesses during the boom era of the internet and sat on the board of several companies that were funded pretty heavily? The one company he was the sole owner / developer was estimated at being sold for between $15M – 30M.

    In this sense, its like most of us getting sued for $100…should any of us get sued for this? No…but considering Andy has made it a habit of going against copyright for fair use purposes — and thumbing his nose at the lawyers publicly — I think he kinda owed it to those of us that followed him to go through with the lawsuit and defend fair use.

  11. Faustus: Prodigy cleared all samples. They were in the liner notes.

    As for Waxy charging for the album? He would have preferred not to:
    “This is my first time licensing music, and I’m frustrated that there’s no free, legal way to release this album for free download when it’s done. By law, you’re legally required to pay royalties for every download, whether or not you charge for it. Wouldn’t a percentage of revenue make more sense?”

  12. To me, the irony in the original story is that after clearing all the musical samples, the artist then turned around and completely ignored the visual samples. It’s still sampling, it should be treated the same way. And if you can’t pony up for the rights to sample the image, make up something new.

  13. Most of you seem to hate Jay Maisel. I am a photographer and I personally do not know him. I know his work and he has done some great work in the past. The problem is, this is his copyright. A few years ago I saw my photos were being sold as posters without my permission. I can tell you I was not happy about that. This artist never asked permission for the use of the photo and nor was Maisel given any credit. This is one of his iconic images and he is just protecting his usage right just like other artists and musicians. Many times artist will release their work if it is used for a non profit or a good cause. When an artist does this they should be respected for their kind act. Maybe Maisel would have said OK if he was asked permission for the usage. We will never know but he does have the right to protect his work.

  14. As a photographer who has watched his work being slowly filtered into other sites without attribution, payment or acknowledgement, I can easily see the need for a return to some form of legal redress with ‘borrowed images’.

    So far, I don’t remember enough of this story being covered in BB to adequately form an outside opinion with regard to all the facts in this case.

    I do think though that the blog post found here gets much closer to what I would have liked BB to have presented:

    The Photographer, The Entrepreneur, The Stockbroker And Their Rent-A-Mob

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