Gregory S. Paul and The Future of Paleoart
Those who pay attention to the world of dinosaur art know the name of Gregory S. Paul. Exploding onto the scene in the 1970′s, his dynamic imagery and distinctive technical illustrations inspired a legion of admirers and, inevitably, imitators. Many young dinosaur artists, myself among them, began their first efforts under a serious Paulian influence. With the rise of paleontological art as a wider market (though still not a particularly wide one) many of these early imitators spread and developed their own style–but for the most part, they still used Paul’s skeletal reconstructions as a basis for their artwork.
Then, a few days ago on the Dinosaur Mailing List, Gregory S. Paul decided he’d had enough. In a long series of posts, he railed against those artists who were working in his style and underbidding him and, to a greater extent, the media and museum people who encouraged it. Finally, he made a sweeping statement to the paleoart world: stop using my skeletal reconstructions.
This sparked a massive discussion on the list serve, one that has had artists and scientists from the professional to the amateur weighing in. Several issues were raised with Paul’s position. Was Paul attempting to copyright specific postures, as he’d implied in one of his emails? Did he have the right to prevent artists from making use of his technical and scientific skeletal illustrations for the purposes of their own reconstructions? How far did his copyright claims extend? And most importantly, can you copyright the exact proportions of an animal skeleton?
These are all important issues, and for simplicities sake let’s make a few things clear. First, Paul has every right in the world to try and protect himself from copyright infringement–indeed, he pointed out that if it weren’t for the significant lost revenue, he wouldn’t have said anything. I fully encourage him to go after people who have been ripping off his distinctive life reconstructions. It’s his duty as an artist.
However, many of his arguments have devolved into a good deal of pointless name calling and this is starting to cloud what is a very important issue–the need for a uniform price index or guild for paleoartists. How do Paul’s complaints stack up against this need? Which of his demands are reasonable and which aren’t?
Paul is demanding that other skeletal artists start using a different standard pose then the one he pioneered. Scott Hartman, among others, has graciously agreed and is changing his illustrations to new, original poses. But it’s clear to me that Paul has no legal grounds to claim copyright or brand on this so called “Paul Look.” His argument, in essence, is one of squatter’s rights; he’s been doing it for the longest, so it belongs to him. Copyright, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t work that way.
Similarly, he claims that a standard skeletal pose is bad science when used by different illustrators. Others have argued, I think correctly, that in fact standard poses tend to highlight errors made in the reconstructions, especially when compared to other artist’s work.
There’s more. What if an artist wishes to use another person’s skeletal references on a commercial illustration? Are royalties in order? Paul overreached again, making a blanket assertion that artists should simply create their own. Nothing wrong with that, but some of us have neither the money nor the access to papers or bones necessary for such work. Paul’s response to this issue is simply to say that we should stay out of the business and leave it to the professionals, but that is tamping down on valuable creative competition and is dangerously close to blaming younger artists for what is basically a problem with the employers.
These issues are going to need to be solved, and while I wish Mr. Paul only the best in protecting his interests, I also cannot in good faith support him any longer. Some of his ideas are good, and I suggest we should use them–perhaps a different standard pose can be found, one that we can all agree will not be subject to such debates in the future. Price indexing is long overdue, as well. But when it comes to the kind of old guard vs. new guard arguments that he is espousing, his ludicrous claim to brand, and his frankly shocking behavior on the DML, I have to say that I have had enough.
Gregory S. Paul is correct in that there are serious issues in the paleoart world. But the way to deal with is is not to try and restrict others usage of scientific artwork–rather, it is to encourage others to produce work that has a distinct visual flavor, and can be valued at set prices. Otherwise, much like the dinosaurs we illustrate, we’re ignoring the wider troubles headed our way.
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