Original draft written February 2019 - updated on 01.22.2021
This particular blog post has been a living document for me these past almost two years - an effort to find language that is adequate and accurate. Picking and sorting through words, seeking legal advice, researching laws, mining my own experiences, returning to insight of spiritual leaders, continually checking the honesty of my intent... how it came to be that Kai (who most know as Brian Andreas) would have years of his work end up in the hands of family who didn't work with him and had no part in their creation...
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.
Nonetheless, I feel this is worth sharing, because when something like this happens, what is revealed is more than the character of the individuals involved, it's something larger about the culture.
A BRIEF BIT ON MY EXPERIENCE & AN OPINION...
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. Studying human behavior and language has always been my passion and focus.
In this country, we have an interesting 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 them or respects what that career path means in terms of everyday living…
What separates a creative life (which I would hope for everyone) from a creative career is 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 aesthetic and the evolution of your self in an ever-changing world.
HOW IT SHOOK OUT...
I was privy to only five of the nine years of Kai’s long divorce - it was in process years before I met him. It is an indescribable experience to get tangled up in someone else's acrimonious divorce, to be falsely accused of reprehensible actions, and to watch the power of one lower court judge as he neglected to address perjury and inconsistencies, omitted factual documentation and testimony from reputable sources.
Another judge (formerly of the Iowa Supreme Court) looked at the exact same information and had a completely opposite opinion. He gave the company and all the work to Kai and all the property and a generous alimony to his ex. Straightforward Iowa law. He drafted an agreement that was signed by both parties, but then somehow Kai's ex reneged, and so the case was tried almost a year later in front of another judge. By that point his ex changed her story, the sons got involved and went after the company.
This process revealed my naivete about our court system and the protections I thought artists have surrounding their work.
In the end, the divorce decree and the Iowa Supreme Court failed to address the very real issues that splitting the work of a living artist would have in the marketplace. His ex was awarded both the company that his name was synonymous with, and ownership of 2/3 of Kai's copyrights (internationally recognized art/writing solely created by Kai, under his former legal name, Brian Andreas).
Effectively, this meant she received digital files of Kai's original work and the copyrights attached to those exact images and words. And Kai was awarded all of the original artwork that those files were created from and everything he creates on forward.
Kai does not create digitally. Everything he writes and draws and paints is done on paper or wood with brushes and ink or graphite. So he retained the entire body of his original work from notebooks and prototypes - but then lost the copyrights to particular formats that were reproduced from those notebooks.
It's important to note here the work sold at StoryPeople 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 a story of Kai's to use in a commercial without his permission. Kai not only took them to court in Iowa and won; the case has become case law in copyright often cited in cases involving indirect profits.
Kai had all the necessary legal contracts in place as an artist. The lower court judge eventually assigned to the divorce case disregarded these contracts and intellectual property precedent.
This decree did not offer a clean split - not when the marital asset involves someone's reputation, name, and clearly identifiable work. It's like dividing an author's publications or a musician's body of compositions - and then giving the non-creator spouse not just full financial award from the work, but also permission to rewrite and move the words and notes around, while the original maker is still alive... with the added benefit of capitalizing on the artist's name and reputation in the marketplace.
WHAT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SPECIALISTS HAD TO SAY...
Post the decision, I sought the guidance of lawyers that specialize in intellectual property. The team I work with represents clients in D.C., Seattle, and Los Angeles. Their response when they read the decree was that this was an irresponsible and sloppy ruling - because they saw all sorts of ways either party could find themselves in court in the future. The Iowa Court of Appeals ought to have caught this. They didn't even address it.
Regarding creative content as a marital asset for a living artist, they affirmed it is precedent in the courts to grant the non-creator spouse either a financial interest or right of use, never control of the actual copyright.
This was our understanding and frustration over the ruling. Our next question was, if there are no clear boundaries, how can we create them so we can move forward...
Because months after this decree we'd seen that:
- StoryPeople uses the font Kai had created of his handwriting - transferring it to new works
- they use his digital signature (the personal and professional signature he's used his entire life, even after his legal name change in 2016)
- they pick and choose how Kai’s drawings and stories are put together, cobbling together art with words of Kai's and others in ways he would never agree to - there is no way to be certain what was actually created by Kai and what digitally arranged or altered by others - even though it may carry the name Brian Andreas
- his ex publicly stated she asked the sons to copy his work. When challenged, she attempted to rewrite history by saying Kai's work was a company "style" developed by a group of studio artists. One of the adult sons, when challenged by Kai, responded in a text that what he does is not special, and "anyone can do it"
- StoryPeople still has nothing on the site that states Kai - the living Brian Andreas - is no longer with the company. That he is still alive and his new work can be found elsewhere. So it appears as if he's retired or handed the company to the sons...
The lawyers began by saying that all of this is unfortunate behavior and morally unethical, but not necessarily illegal.
Using the name Brian Andreas allows Kai to remain the actual artist of record for that work - so long as StoryPeople decides to credit him. The font and use of signature have to follow copyright law - it is illegal to move someone's signature around on altered works. When you own the copyright, you can move content and images around and create derivative works - but you need to be accurate when authorship changes.
As to stories about how the company functioned and the adult sons out of nowhere working for the company and deciding to copy Kai's style, it comes down to what lawyers consider vengeful behavior. But, unless it mars the overall reputation of Kai in the world as an artist, adversely affecting his ability to do business, it's difficult to stop. Until then, we were advised to publicly state these stories just aren't true. That's why this page remains on our site.
All of this was astonishing to me, because in academia, to claim, copy or move around the work and name of another living artist gets you fired or expelled... and there is no tolerance for this amongst artists in the professional arena.
WHAT CAN BE DONE...
Kai has 25 years of name association as Brian Andreas and StoryPeople, and generations have the expectation of going there and finding him. He has to continually correct things on social media because there is confusion now in the marketplace...
Though Kai was shocked by the behavior of his family and saddened by the loss of his work, it has in no way inhibited him from creating. We're oddly quiet in our hearts about this because we were both trained that the job of the artist is to do the work from a place of authenticity. From there it goes out into the world and moves in ways you have no control over.
We would love your help in spreading the word that Kai is alive and still creating, and that he has a new artistic home at Flying Edna.
And if you're an artist educator, you're welcome to share our story if it's useful in conversations around navigating copyright. Teach young artists how to protect their work - not from a space of scarcity or fear, but in order to ensure they have choice in how their voice goes out into the world.
Like I said at the beginning of this long long post... perspective. We're fine. Wiser for the experience. (As a side note, whenever I buy from a company, I now do my homework to find out as much as I can about them... because I want to know exactly who and what I'm supporting.)
During this chapter of our lives, we've committed to being a planet conscious studio, Kai created the women series, Miranda showed up, we collaborated to create bird & brush, and more than 300 new stories were written. With a hell of a lot of grit (and not always enough grace), we built Flying Edna from the ground up.
As I write in Creative Anarchy, what we choose to create from imperfect and challenging moments carries along energy. It matters not just that we move through something, but how...
So even if something outrageous like this does happen, know you have the agency to choose how you move through it. Every step of the way. This is what will continue to shape your character... not the loss.
always in motion,
p.s. Everything here in our studio carries Kai's new signature and/or the Flying Edna studio signature - so it's quite clear when you've purchased or received something authentic from the artist(s) that originally created it.
We deeply appreciate the support we have received - but we're no longer posting comments. You are always welcome to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org