Dog eat dog world?

Robynne Raye and her partner at Modern Dog, Michael Strassburger, have been involved in a copyright infringement lawsuit with Disney, Target, and the Jaya Apparel group for the past several years. Modern Dog filed a lawsuit against the companies when the artwork from the end papers of their 2008 Compendium showed up on T-shirts being sold by Target. Anyone that I’ve talked to about the case agrees that Modern Dog should win based on the evidence—as long as they can stay the course and raise enough money to stand up to the stonewalling tactics of the big dogs. The recent shenanigans by the defense makes me wonder about the dog eat dog world we live in.

In a Print Magazine blog post from last week about the case, Steven Heller quotes an email from Raye and Strassburger, “After misleading us into thinking they were going to settle our case without mediation, the defense filed a surprise motion on May 14th to have our case thrown out. They no longer deny (or admit) that they copied our illustrations, instead the defense is claiming that your illustrations are not entitled to a broad copyright since the dog illustrations lack “expression” and fall into the “natural world” category.

Raye has posted some of the other comments made in court on her Facebook page. Here are a few highlights:

“Favorite quote from yesterday’s Motion for Summary Judgment (said be the defense attorney): ‘There’s very little creativity going on here’.”

“I just think this case has to be one of the most absurd in the history of copyright. They deny copying our dogs for months, then out of nowhere claim that our dogs are realistic depictions from the “natural world” so therefore not protected by a broad copyright anyway.”

The image below shows the illustrations of dogs in question. The dogs on green background are Modern Dog’s. The dogs in center on white are from the Target T-shirt. I’ve circled a few strikingly similar ones. You’ll find more if you look closely.


The defense is trying to claim that the dog illustrations are technical rather than creative—anyone could have done them. Raye and Strassburger dispute this claim. In fact, Raye and Strassburger think the designer used a Wacom tablet to trace the illustrations. A PhD in mathematics from Stanford was among the expert witnesses called. The witness stated that there is less than a 1 in over 2,000,0000 chance that they did not trace the dogs their book.

After much time and huge expense, the trial is scheduled for September 2013. I will continue to watch this case with great interest—as well as amazement at how low people can go. I will offer as much support for Modern Dog as I can. I hope you do too.


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