Monday, 25 October 2010

What's my line?

What's in a face? Or what's in the lines of a simple cartoon face? Specifically, what's in the simple lines of the face of a cartoon rabbit?

Dick Bruna, creator of Miffy, is defending his creation's copyright in court, where he has confronted Sanrio, the Japanese company who created Hello Kitty, over its cartoon rabbit, Kathy.

Good on Bruna for defending his intellectual copyright (perhaps ever more necessary in this days of downloads etc). But there is surely also a time when one should step back. After all, Miffy is hugely successful worldwide (not least, by a long chalk, Japan). Is this a case of "a good artist copies, a great artist steals"? (Though I'm making no claims for artistic greatness or otherwise in any of the creations).

So, is Kathy essentially a copy? Or just existing independently in a shared successful genre? Or a natural progression from Sanrio's own Kitty? Or was Kitty simply a "copy" in the first place? In other words does Kathy=Miffy, or does Kathy=Kitty or does Kathy and Kitty=Miffy? Only seemingly idle questions, as a judge has to decide on real financial rewards or penalties (Bruna is reportedly asking for 50,000 euros a day in compensation).

Update: Nov. 5, 2010. Yesterday, the court handed down its ruling that, yes, the rabbit infringed copyright, and ordered a 25,000 euro-a-day payment up to 2m euros fine for non-compliance. Not sure how "worldwide" the ruling can apply. Sanrio will contest.

Update 2, June 7, 2011: Sanrio voluntarily ceases Cathy and both sides agree to stop legal proceedings and jointly donate money, that they would have spent on continuing the case, to the relief effort after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami!

Above, Miffy, Kathy and Kitty. Before anyone asks: Miffy © Dick Bruna, Kathy and Kitty © Sanrio. And used to illustrate the news story only!

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