Original draft written February 2019
This particular blog post has been a living document for me these past 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... to understand how it came to be that Kai (who most know as Brian Andreas) would have years of his artwork and stories end up in the hands of family members that neither authored nor created it...
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 our story is worth sharing. 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.
Since I met Kai, I have heard many people say how much his work has meant to them through the years. Many refer to this art that has come to have a special place in their lives by the artist, Brian Andreas. But a fair amount credit StoryPeople, as if the artist and the company are interchangeable.
The group of individuals that worked for the company called StoryPeople, rotated for 25 years under the anonymous title of the Crew. They fulfilled orders, answered questions, and worked with Kai to build sculptures based on the artistic vocabulary that he created. Kai had final say on every piece.
The Crew was a sincere group of talented, dedicated people. However, they never drew or painted the original images that were turned into prints; they never wrote the words to the stories that touched your hearts so closely that it seemed they were written for you in a particular moment you needed them most.
That was an artist. Brian Andreas, an actual real live person, who now legally goes by the name Kai Skye.
Purchase whatever you like from whomever you choose, but be accurate when you talk about what it is that touches your heart – especially if it’s on social media. If it's the company you're complimenting, do that. If it's the work, compliment the original source.
That’s a fair exchange between you and any artist.
It's more than attribution, it's an attention to detail that honors the grit, deep intelligence, insatiable curiosity, desire and discipline it takes to create a life as an artist.
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 inconsistencies and conflicting information, omitted factual documentation and testimony from reputable sources.
In the process of mediation, another judge (formerly a Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court) looked at the 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 shortly after, Kai's ex reneged, and the case was tried almost a year later in front of another judge. By that point the sons got involved, his ex changed her story 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, and completely disregarded authorship of content. 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 owned by 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 that is cited in cases involving indirect profits.
Kai had all the necessary legal contracts in place as an artist. As the recognized sole author of the content he created, Kai has always had the legal right to exploit his licenses as he wished. 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. This team has offices in New York, Washington 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 pick and choose how Kai’s drawings and stories are put together, cobbling together his art with other work in ways he would never agree to - there is no way to be certain what was actually created by Kai and what was digitally arranged or altered by others - even though the final product 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." Prior to this ruling, the sons showed no interest in working with their father or contributing art to the company in this way.
- 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 is still involved with the company.
My lawyers said all of this is unfortunate behavior and morally unethical, but not necessarily illegal.
Kai's ex and her boyfriend continue to troll this site and our social media sites under their own names and aliases that have IP addresses in Decorah, making comments - we have tried to block them, but they continue. Our lawyers have suggested we keep this page live in order to publicly state our position - and deflect the stories they continue to perpetuate to our customers.
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.
That said, 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 and family. 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.
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 are no longer posting responses to this blog. You are always welcome to email us at email@example.com