Elon Musk drawn into farting unicorn dispute with potter

Tom Edwards was thrilled to hear the CEO was a fan of his work, until he saw Tesla using a copy without permission


Tom Edwards, a Colorado potter, was thrilled when Elon Musk tweeted a photo of one of his original mugs featuring his cartoon drawing of a unicorn farting electricity. The Tesla CEO called it maybe my favorite mug ever in a February 2017 post leading to a bump in sales from around the world.

Edwards was surprised however, when, a month later, Musk tweeted a copyof his cartoon image to promote Teslas new sketch pad feature, which allows drivers to draw on a touchscreen. Multiple news articles inaccurately reported that Musk was the one who created and drew the cartoon.

cars electricity Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Made today on Tesla sketch pad pic.twitter.com/Z8dFP2NN41

March 30, 2017

The 61-year-old artist was going to let it go until he learned the image was also appearing in Teslas operating system as a small icon and that the company had even used it in a Christmas message.

Its part of their branding now, Edwards said in an interview. I love the fact that its in the cars, but I just want them to do the right thing and pay me adequately for it. Elon Musk can be a hero for standing up for artists rights.

Musk, however, seems uninterested in compensating or crediting the artist. Instead, he tweeted at Edwards daughter this week that it would be lame to sue and that the potter should be grateful for the attention.

The dispute may seem low-stakes relative to the litany of scandals plaguing the electric car company workplace safety complaints, major layoffs; high-profile autopilot car crashes, an exodus of executives, a suit against a whistleblower, and intense pressure to reach mass production of a new model.

But the use of Edwards work without compensation highlights what artists say is the kind of corporate theft and copyright infringement that has become rampant forcing independent artists to engage in expensive legal battles to get credited and paid.

Presented with details of Edwards claims, Tesla spokespeople declined to comment.

Elon Musk tweeted praise for the original image in 2017. Photograph: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Edwards, who has been a potter for 40 years, first unveiled his unicorn farts mug in 2010 in a blogpost. Electric cars are good for the environment because electricity comes from magic, he wrote.

He said he was making a joke about how people dont understand the source of a cars electricity and used the signature style of his Wallyware brand of light-hearted cartoons on mugs. Edwards also said he considered himself a fan of Musk.

But Teslas repeated use of the images copy and the resulting fawning news coverage began to irk him. Then in December, a Tesla-owning friend emailed him to note that the cars were promoting a holiday message that included his art.

When I turned on my car this morning, Elon wished me a merry Christmas using a counterfeit Wally design, the friend wrote.

Tom Edwards, the artist behind the mug, says he is a fan of Elon Musk, but wants to be fairly acknowledged. Photograph: Courtesy of Tom Edwards

Edwards then talked to numerous lawyers who told him it was a very clear case of a copyright violation, especially given that Musk had originally tweeted out an image of the mug, acknowledging it was someone elses work.

Its copyright 101, he said. They did a blatant copy and they used it as a promo campaign.

So on 23 May, Edwards lawyer, Tim Atkinson, sent a letter to Teslas general counsel, with the subject line: The Power of Magic. The note said it was not a cease and desist, but an invitation for all parties to continue to benefit from the whimsical, and amazingly spot on piece of imagery my client created in 2010, which now appropriately finds a home in the operating system of the magical vehicles your company produces.

The letter said the image grew out of Edwards admiration for sustainable technologies and the work of visionaries like Mr Musk, adding that the letter was not meant to be a shakedown or outrageous monetary demand, but was seeking a discussion and a mutual decision.

Atkinson and Edwards said they have not received any response from Tesla. Musk only briefly addressed the matter after Edwards told his story to local newspaper Westword, and his daughter, a musician, tweeted it at Musk.

Lisa Prank (@lisaprank)

hey yall Grimes boyfriend ripped off my dads art! this is a true story! what do you have to say for yourself @elonmusk ?? https://t.co/TMMJAS1ZGM

June 26, 2018

The CEO claimed he wasnt responsible, saying the image was chosen randomly by software team as a joke (they didnt tell me in advance), and he offered to change it to something else if your Dad wants. When she pressed Musk on using her fathers creative property for a year, the CEO doubled down, claiming it was actually someone elses drawing and that he had asked his team to use something else.

He can sue for money if he wants, but thats kinda lame. If anything, this attention increased his mug sales, said Musk, adding that Tesla gained no financial benefit from the image.

In an interview, Atkinson rejected Musks claim, noting that the use of the image, starting from the tweet promoting the sketch pad, has carried a branding and marketing benefit for Tesla. All of this is valuable to the business. He added that he was still hoping for an amicable resolution.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the unicorn still appeared on the Tesla touchscreen.

After publication of this article, Musk tweeted another message at Edwards daughter, claiming he popularized the mug for free, adding: How much money does your Dad want for this terrible transgression?

Musk also claimed in a tweet late Wednesday night that he had offered to pay the guy who drew it twice. As of Thursday, however, Edwards said he and his attorney had received no communications from Tesla. Eventually, Musk deleted all his tweets related to the subject. A spokesperson declined to comment.

Edwards said he wanted to speak out in part because he often hears similar stories from artists. I realize my farting unicorn is not as serious as whistleblowers, he said, but honestly, its all about integrity.

He added: Id really like to get on Elon Musks good side Hes really really interesting. But he isnt above copyright law.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/27/elon-musk-farting-unicorn-mug-cartoon-tom-edwards


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