The art of science and the science of art.

How a Martian Goddess Changed My Mind About Copyright


Creative Commons Habits Are Hard to Break

Creative Commons Licences are Good Things, in my estimation. I've had one on my personal art blog The Flying Trilobite since almost the very beginning.

There are different grades of Creative Commons Licences (CCL), and like many artists, I've stuck with the most restrictive one. Without giving you the whole list of various Licences and their attributes, I can sum up by saying that all of them require attribution to the original artist. It's a small point, but an important one. It asks for civility and credit where credit it due. Without creative people making new imagery online, the internet would be a dull place.

The Creative Commons description of the one I have displayed on The Flying Trilobite says:

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Like many artists starting out it makes sense: if you work hard making something new, you don't want someone else, maybe more established swooping in, making a new version of it, and then turning around and licensing or selling it for massive profit. That would burn, and you'd fall deeper into the bitter-artist-whom-no-one-understands even further than you already have.

I have been a big fan of Cory Doctorow and the idea of more open sharing for a long time, and railed against some scientific illustrators for being afraid to put their work online (it ends up there anyway I argue: but an established presence helps protect your work). Even so, I have stuck with this protective, locked-up licence.

Until I saw a goddess from Mars.

Or, I should say; another goddess from Mars.

Mother Mars

Years ago I painted Mother Mars. It was a tough work, and I almost gave up on it numerous times when it was half-complete. One weekend I was determined to destroy it.

© Glendon Mellow

© Glendon Mellow

© Glendon Mellow

Mother Mars © Glendon Mellow, oil on canvas.

The idea behind Mother Mars was the embodiment of a Mother Nature figure on an (almost?) dead planet. Her face was my rendition of the infamous Cydonian hill-face photo from the 70's. I struggled for over a year to develop the "egg" next to her, playing around with images of mermaid's purses (shark eggs). Then news of meteorite ALH84001 and possible micro fossils struck, and I finished the painting. I included a string of magnetite in the bleeding egg-form, and inscribed one of the nearby rocks with "ALH84001".

Like the rest of my artwork, I slapped the "No-Commercial, No-Derivative-Work, Attribution" Licence on the painting's post when I blogged it, and when I put it on DeviantArt.

The Pygmalion Moment

If you're not familiar with DeviantArt, it's a social network built around easily sharing art. It's a lot like a combination of blogging, Facebook and filled with manga, furries, nude photography and comic book fan art.

From the Wikipedia article about DeviantArt:

As of August 2010, the site consists of over 14.5 million members, and over 100 million submissions, and receives around 140,000 submissions per day. In addition, deviantArt users submit over 1.4 million "favorites" and 1.5 million comments daily.

My traffic there has what I somewhat high numbers, though not massive by DeviantArt standards.

Then enter Fokkusu1991, a.k.a. Samantha Moreland:


© Samantha Moreland aka fokkusu1991

© Samantha Moreland aka fokkusu1991

I Will Die In My House On Mars, © Samantha Moreland aka fokkusu1991. (Note the awesome fossil next to the statue!)

This was the Pygmalion moment.

Moreland had re-created my painting, and it looked wonderful! Maybe it's the contemporary fine artist in me (not being too precious about the work) or maybe it's the illustrator in me (loving reproductions of my work) but this was amazing. I was impressed and flattered.

And it had me re-thinking that whole "no-derivatives" section of the Creative Commons Licence I have been using for so long.

Samantha Moreland named the sculpture "I Will Die In My House On Mars" from a line in a song by Arjen Lucassen, called "My House On Mars". It's a perfect post-internet age mash-up art, still with undeniable stamp of Moreland's craftsmanship.

I think the big fear for a new artist starting out is that by having fully open copyright or Creative Commons, is that a larger-name artist or corporate entity than yourself will swoop in, make a derivative of your work and use their bigger platform to earn gobs of money and fame-points.

Am I more open to derivatives because, after 6 years of blogging and a decent-sized fan base, I'm comfortable I won't get screwed over?

In a few more years,if I reach the level of success a Star Wars and a Marvel Comics have, will I worry less about fans selling fanart t-shirts for a buck based on my work?

I think it's all of it. Getting over the fear, and seeing my work inspire another creator. Thanks Sam, for the best response to my artwork I can think of: making more art that made me think.

Where do you stand as an artist or consumer on artist copyrights? Let me know in the comments below!

- -

Curiosity © Samantha Moreland

Don't miss her manga-inspired Martian creations

Samantha Moreland's art on DeviantArt



The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Starting Thanksgiving

Enter code: HOLIDAY 2015
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >


Email this Article