Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who gets the money?

Every so often at the Center we field questions pertaining to the copyright, royalties and fees from American Gothic. This probably would not be of interest if the painting was obscure or only known within tight art circles. But since American Gothic is recognized and known far outside the art set, it is conceivable many would inquire as to who gets what from the reproduction (whether in parody form or original) from the original work.

In the past, when such a questions has been asked, we have responded that the copyright to American Gothic is held by the Figge Museum of Art (formerly Davenport Museum of Art) in Davenport, Iowa. And for the most part this is correct. However, a recently discovered blog prompted us to dig a bit deeper as to where royalties from American Gothic end up.

The blog——made the claim that “every licensing fee for reproduction of her brother's masterpiece has been split between the Union Rescue Mission and the Riverside County Coalition for Alternatives to Domestic Violence,” both located in the area of Los Angeles, Calif. where Nan Wood Graham lived in her later years.

We did not doubt Nan named these organizations in her will and they did receive some benefits from American Gothic, it was the claim that “every licensing fee” was split between the two, implying these were the only recipients of any proceeds of the painting. In order to verify—or refute—this information a little detective work was in order.

Donning my rumpled Columbo overcoat and with a tip of my fedora I did what every capable modern-day sleuth does: write an email. The recipient was Robert Panzer, executive director of the Visual Arts and Galleries Association (VAGA), the organization that takes care of questions of copyright, licensing fees and the like under the umbrella of “art.” I sent him the blog in question and asked if he would shed some light on the subject. As suspected, he replied the blog was a bit misleading.

Mr. Panzer explained all copyrights to American Gothic are indeed held by the Figge Museum, however, there are other rights germane to Nan Wood Graham that are bit less cut and dried. An excerpt of his letter is as follows:

        "American Gothic is protected by two rights: Copyright and Right of Publicity.  Rights of Publicity are something like privacy rights, which individuals have  when it comes to the commercial use of their names, voices and likenesses… As I’m sure you know, Nan Wood Graham is portrayed in American Gothic and hence, if you want to reproduce AG in a commercial manner (such as on merchandise and in advertising) you would need to clear NWG’s rights of publicity.  Since Nan did not specifically mention rights of publicity in her will, these rights went to various beneficiaries named in her will that received the residuary of the will.  Residuary means anything that Nan owned that wasn’t detailed in the will.  There were a number of beneficiaries, with the Union Rescue Mission and the Riverside County Coalition for Alternatives to Domestic Violence being just two of them.  All the beneficiaries have hired VAGA to act as their licensing agent for clearing rights to AG for commercial uses.  Fees we collect for non-commercial uses of AG go to the Figge."

In case you are wondering a “non-commercial” use is think school textbooks as an example. Anyway, as can be seen, the rights to American Gothic are not exactly black and white.  As with anything that is born from the mind and reproduced, the monetary rights can be bit fuzzy. And with the passing of years it gets even fuzzier. It is reassuring, however, that proceeds from American Gothic, at least in part, go to a good cause.

In this same vein, Nan Wood Graham has taken numerous publications to task as to their depiction of American Gothic. To read a little about this, visit these links:
People Magazine
Hustler Article

Upcoming events at the American Gothic House Center:

Feb. 9 Grant Wood Birthday Soup Smorgasbord

The Center will be closed Tuesday, Jan 1 for New Year’s Day.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
American Gothic House Center

The American Gothic House Center strives to become financially independent through gift shop revenue, sponsorships, and by establishing an endowment fund. Funds raised in this campaign will be used to match the Iowa Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grant and will become endowment funds to support the Center's annual operations. As a subscriber to the weekly newsletter, you have already shown support for the American Gothic House Center. I invite you to strengthen your role in the valuable experience we provide the community by making a contribution to our fund drive. Click here to give your tax deductible gift, or head to our website for more information. Thank you to all who have donated so far!
        Our Mission: Integrating the puzzle pieces of American Gothic
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1 comment:

  1. The Art Insititute of Chicago asserts that American Gothic is, in fact, public domain...