Wow. So many thoughts. What a week. I spent the extended weekend on the first ever TOY PHOTO SAFARI - meeting a group of like-minded toy photographers in Las Vegas for a few days of toy photography bliss. Upon return I received an email from Redbubble - a site I use to sell Brick Sailboat prints. The email informed me that LEGO Systems A/S had demanded they take down one of my pictures because I was stepping on their trademark/copyright/patent. Some instagram activity revealed that it had happened to others. A toy photography blog, www.stuckinplastic.com, wrote two great articles about the situation (here & here). It's really not a big deal - one picture. It's not shutting down the site or anywhere close to a lawsuit. But it left some hard feelings and some questions.
What I hope might come from all of this is some clarity from LEGO Systems A/S in their fair use policy. I've read it. I read it three years ago, before I snapped my first picture of a minifigure. I read it again before I set up my Redbubble account. When my my first photo was taken down this week by Redbubble via LEGO legal I read it again.
Another thing I noticed this week was the beginnings of a discussion about toy photography being, or not being, art. Good toy photographers sell art. People might not see it that way because 1) we cherish our toys - they are familiar to us. How hard is it to set down a toy and snap a quick shot? 2) toy photography is not mainstream. Will taking good pictures of our toys ever become mainstream? Probably not. Why? Because it's way harder than it looks - artists know this.
For me, the big question remains - is selling photographs of LEGO bricks and minifigures against the rules? If it is, than why not say it?
Brick Sailboat for me has always been about the story. It's a story we're familiar with - a Toy Story™. My earliest memories are of LEGO minifigs dangling from the ceiling of a Catholic church during service. I was just a bored kid daydreaming during the one weekend hour I had to spend without my favorite toy. As an adult, toy photography finally gave me an artistic outlet to express my childhood playtime.
What's sad about this week is that as I approach Brick Sailboat's 1000th picture, my childhood LEGO instantly became LEGO Systems A/S™. For the first time I've thought about taking my story to someone else's toys. It actually may be a nudge in the right direction. Just don't tell the pirates, ninjas, and minifigs of Brick Sailboat!
~Paul Schernitzki (a.k.a. Brick Sailboat)