I’ve thought long & hard about putting something on our site regarding our experience of Kai’s loss of his copyrights.
I want to preface this by saying one word: perspective. There are big, big things happening in our world, and the challenges we have encountered in these circumstances pale in comparison to those who do not have access to clean water and air, fresh food, and a safe, warm place to live. The topic of copyrights is not as hectic as climate change or fighting for equality... and certainly less devastating than a global pandemic.
But we do feel this is worth sharing. It's part of our story. When Kai and I created this company, we agreed we wanted to do something different. So we erase the lines, expand the boundaries, and invite you to know us through our process, our work and our lives. Because to us, it’s all one thing.
A BRIEF BIT ON MY EXPERIENCE & AN OPINION...
It is an indescribable experience to get tangled up in someone else's acrimonious divorce, falsely accused of reprehensible actions, and to watch as four out of five judges neglect to address perjuries, misrepresented information, and omit documentation from expert witnesses and reputable sources.
It has taken time for me to breathe through the fear, anger, disbelief, and profound disappointment.
I am a teaching artist. For nearly 20 years, I performed and taught an integrative approach to vocal production, text analysis, and full body storytelling.
After conversations with former colleagues who teach and lead some of the top MFA theatre programs in the country, finding out there is little to nothing in the curriculum that addresses how to protect your art - especially from your family - I decided I wanted to write this. So maybe our story could help someone else.
Uta Hagen, a famous acting teacher who was part of the foundation of actor training in this country once said that being an actor - or any artist, I'd add - is like putting yourself naked on the rooftop for birds to peck at.
It’s not a cheery image.
In this country, we have an odd relationship to our artists - we surround ourselves with them… the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the books we read, how we decorate our homes and dress our bodies… and yet, we are not a culture that always takes care of those that are the original creators of the art we turn to every single day of our lives...
Traditional educational systems help shape our understanding of where the arts lie in relation to other studies. But the humanities… the humanities... philosophy, art, history, archeology, anthropology, law, politics, religion… these cannot be separated from one another or our maths and sciences. Each is a thread that runs through every part of our culture. Subdividing them allows us to delve more deeply into each, but ultimately, they are interwoven and equally important to making decisions and navigating our relationships.
What separates a creative life (which I would hope for everyone) from a creative career is years of countless hours developing skill, muscle memory, and myelin. Investing in training and research, experimenting and then putting your work out there for others to critique. Testing theories against time and a wide range of circumstances, continually honing technique according to your aesthetics, and the evolution of your self in an ever-changing world.
Though Kai was obviously saddened by the loss of the company and all this work, it in no way inhibits him from creating. In the same style he always has and beyond. We're oddly quiet in our hearts about the loss because we know the job of the artist is to do the work. From there it goes out into the world and moves in ways you have no control over.
The true issue, and reason I'm writing is that the courts unexpectedly neglected to address boundaries. In lieu of this, we've had to clearly create our own.
HOW IT SHOOK OUT...
In Kai's divorce, the decree from the Iowa Supreme Court failed to address the very real issues that splitting the work of a living artist would have in the marketplace, including that a vindictive ex was awarded the company that his name was synonymous with, and 2/3 of recognized art/writing that was solely created by Kai (under his former legal name, Brian Andreas).
It's important to note here the work that was sold at StoryPeople all those years was never done as work for hire. It was always licensed separately from Kai to the company, and registered in legal copyright solely in his name. There was even a documented case that proved the art was not connected to the company, but to the artist - Years ago, Audi had taken some writing of Kai's to use in a commercial without his permission. Kai took them to court in Iowa and won.
WHAT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SPECIALISTS HAD TO SAY...
Post the decision, I sought the guidance of lawyers that specialize in intellectual property. The team I spoke with represents clients in New York, D.C., Seattle, and Los Angeles. Their response when they read the decree was that this was a bad ruling, irresponsible, and sloppy - because they saw all sorts of ways either party could find themselves in court in the future. The Iowa supreme court ought to have caught this.
Regarding creative content, it is precedent in the courts to grant the non-artist partner either a financial interest or right of use, never control of the actual copyright.
Of course this was difficult to hear, and so our next question was, if there are no clear boundaries, how can we create them so we can move on with our lives…
We wanted to know if
- we could go after sole use of the name Brian Andreas, since use of his name was not awarded in the decree
- if we could keep them from using the font Kai had created of his handwriting
- keep them from using his digital signature (the personal and professional signature he's used his entire life, even after his legal name change in 2016).
We asked if it is illegal that
- that StoryPeople now picks and chooses how Kai’s drawings and stories are put together, randomly cobbling together art with words in ways he would never agree to... On some of these pieces, they continue to use his digital signature, making it appear as if it was created by Kai and/or has his artistic permission, that he's still working with the company.
- that his ex asked the sons to copy his work, rewriting history by saying Kai's work was only ever a company "style" done by studio artists.
The lawyers said that all of this is unfortunate behavior and morally unethical, but not illegal.
We could take them to court for the use of name, digital signature and the font, but it would be a long and costly process, and ultimately would depend on the judge that heard the case. Because the divorce decree did not clearly state how the use of the artist’s name would be negotiated in the marketplace, and also because it awarded ownership of the copyrights prior to 2012 to one party, and all of the original notebooks and completed originals from that same period to the other, there is a large grey area left to interpretation.
WHAT CAN BE DONE...
Months later, we've watched how a lie that gives someone a lot of money, requires more lies in order to justify it... Kai has addressed some of the more egregious falsifications, but we expect there will be more.
I have no tolerance for those who bully in the shadows and speak words of love in the light.
Often when their story is challenged in a post like this or on social media, Kai's family will wave around that decree and we'll receive an email from them with lots of shaming and empty threats, and see posts show up in social media from aliases that just happen to have obviously made up profiles and an IP address in Decorah, Iowa... It's silliness, but we're going to call it out because it's a waste of time for everyone.
Kai and I in no way would describe ourselves as victims. But this did require our attention and now it's time to give our energy to something else. Which is why I'm posting this as a link I can leave up and refer to as more people ask questions and learn Kai is still alive and still creating...
Humans will do what humans do and create stories in the gaps between information.
With that in mind, we would like to ask something of you.
We understand some of Kai’s older stories may be the exact thing you want for yourself or for someone you care about. If you purchase Kai’s older work from StoryPeople, you can ask them to not use the digital signature. They can easily honor this request because everything they sell that carries the name Brian Andreas is a reproduction made from digital files, not the original work.
Kai does not create digitally. Everything he writes and draws and paints is done on paper or wood with brushes and ink or graphite. Thankfully, the court awarded him all of these originals...
Having worked side by side with Kai for almost five years now, I can tell you with certainty that he spends an incredible amount of time determining color, proportion, and quality of materials as he turns his original pieces into reproductions that end up as a print, card, sculpture, or book. This process requires an artistic eye and deft experience with digital technology. And often he will update older work or change materials based on his aesthetic and ethics.
A signature on a piece of art, even a reproduction, means something… especially to the artist. Nothing ever justifies the use of transferring someone else’s signature to something they did not create or agree to.
Please consider our request and pass it forward to anyone that has an interest in Kai’s older work. And please help us let people know Kai is no longer at that company.
Teachers, professors, fellow artists - you're welcome to share our story if it's useful in conversations around navigating copyright.
Like I said at the beginning of this long long post... perspective. We're fine. After some big 'ol primal screams and a hell of a lot of introspection, we picked ourselves up, took responsibility for what was ours, and got back to work.
So even if something outrageous like this does happen to you, know there can be light on the other side...
always in motion,