Tag Archives: copyright

Who owns what you create?

I’d like to zoom ahead a few centuries for just a minute. Last post was about the brilliant type designer Francesco Griffo and how ownership of his creative output was taken away by the Venetian Senate. Naturally, he was bitter. Griffo did everything right: he worked hard to become skilled; he discovered what his customers wanted and delivered it; what he created was in short supply so he should have been able to command a respectable price for it. But Griffo couldn’t make a buck from his own type designs because his ownership of them was taken away.

Let me put in a plug here for the Graphic Artists’ Guild. In the late 1970s GAG lobbied the United States Congress to enact law that made everything an artist creates the sole property of that artist, unless the artist transfers ownership to somebody else through a contract. You can see how huge that was. Before 1978, an artist protected his creations by applying for a copyright or else a patent through the Patent Office. It cost you money to establish ownership of your own stuff. Now your creativity belongs to you from the moment you create it. Anybody else trying to claim it needs to show a contract you signed. No contract means the artist owns it. If you wonder why I’m unapologetically pro-America, this is one of the reasons. In the USA an artist’s intellectual property is protected by the law of the land.

I sought out my pal Fred Carlson’s (Fred was GAG’s president 1991-1993) input on this. Here’s what he added—

I always like to note that the US Constitution itself protects the intellectual property of its citizens, acknowledging the USA as the worldwide leader in copyright assignment to benefit creators—even Jefferson (who invented quite a few items in his lifetime!) saw the need for this:

US Constitution, Article 1 Section 8, clause 8 (in the whole article describing the creation of Congress)

“Section. 8. The Congress shall have the power to…”
Clause 8 “…promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”

This recognized the positive impact of assigning ownership to inventors, writers, artists, who could then exploit the work for the profitable and regular distribution through the economy of their valuable intellectual property.
It created such things as Patent offices, copyright offices, etc. For a lot of the modern world these concepts dating to 1787 are still unknown and often disrespected.—Fred


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Francesco Griffo

Francesco Griffo

Manutius got type-design-superstar Francesco Griffo to cut type for his lowercase/minuscule Greek letters. Greek minuscules had been developed by the monks in those old scriptoria to save some space on the page. Griffo redesigned them as italics so they would take even less space. He did the same for Hebrew and Roman lowercase. When you look at the examples in the links below, you’ll see that the capital letters are still in their old form—only the lowercase letters are italic.

A page of the polyglot Bible. Looks like only the Greek got lowercase italics. Why are there blank spaces at the top-left of columns 2 & 3 but top-right of the first column? http://www.griffoggl.com/en/biografia/

I give some links below here and yesterday’s post to Griffo’s beautiful work. One of my favs is the polyglot Bible: 3 columns on every page in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The guy was cutting those tiny letters in steel by hand and they’re perfect. Really, go look. Griffo’s designs for italic type are beautiful—and they’re useful. Italics take less space on a page, so books can be smaller and less expensive. Manutius was selling a ton of books thanks to Griffo’s italics. Here’s the ugly part: Manutius didn’t want any other publisher to have Griffo’s italic type. In 1502 Manutius went to the Senate of the Venetian Republic who granted him a 10-year protection—only Manutius could use Griffo’s italic type designs. I’m not talking about the physical metal type—I mean the design, the creative idea, the ‘intellectual property.’ So Griffo didn’t own his italics anymore, because he couldn’t sell them to anyone else. He should have been able to make a fortune from them, but Manutius owned ‘em. Welcome to the 1500s graphic design business, Francesco. Disappointed and disgusted, Griffo left Venice soon after that.


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.