A strange title for an article you might think! But not so strange when you hear about the dispute that has arisen between a relatively un-known (until now) Coloradoan potter – Tom Edwards – and billionaire Tesla CEO and space-travel obsessive – Elon Musk.
It all started back in February 2017 when Elon Musk tweeted a picture of a mug featuring one of Tom Edwards’ original designs which depicts a cartoon unicorn farting electricity with a rainbow and smiley face background. Mr Musk posted a picture of the mug along with the caption “maybe my favourite mug ever” to his Twitter feed. Mr Musk has some 22 million Twitter followers and there was an instant upsweep in interest in Mr Edwards mug design. All smooth sailing so far you might think and what great publicity for Mr Edwards, however, Mr Edwards was not quite so pleased when Tesla proceeded to use similar images of farting unicorns in marketing and other material for Tesla without his consent and without offering him any financial compensation; examples of Tesla’s use include promoting a new “sketch pad” feature, on a Christmas message and as an icon in Tesla’s operating system.
In May 2018 Mr Edwards instructed his lawyer to send a letter to Tesla’s legal team to discuss financially compensating for use of his copyright work. Mr Edwards and his lawyer have publically stated that they did not receive a response to that approach.
Fast-forward to a few days ago and the musician Lisa Prank (Tom Edwards’ daughter), real name Robin Edwards, engaged Mr Musk in a Twitter war berating him for allegedly “ripping off” her father’s art and using his “creative property for a year without any credit or compensation”. She also responded to Mr Musk’s statement that he had offered to financially compensate Mr Edwards saying that she had asked her dad “about it and he said that [it] wasn’t true”. In a now deleted post Mr Musk responded to say “Have asked my team to use a diff example going forward. He can sue for money if he wants, but that’s kind of lame. If anything, this attention increased his mug sales.”
As yet, there does not appear to be a clear resolution of the matter.
If this case was happening in the UK then in order to prove that his copyright work has been infringed Mr Edwards would have to prove that his farting unicorn mug design is an artistic copyright work i.e. an original graphic work, and that the similar farting unicorn design used by Mr Musk and Tesla creates substantially the same overall impression as Mr Edwards’ copyright work and that therefore Mr Edwards intellectual property rights, specifically, his rights at the owner of the copyright in his farting cartoon unicorn are being infringed.
Comparison of images:
Looking at the two images side by side and noting that it is clear that Mr Musk and Tesla had had access to Mr Edwards design and cannot claim they came up with the “Tesla” design independently it seems that Mr Edwards has a strong claim. We will watch to see how the matter progresses.
Briffa advises on all aspects of copyright law and practice, including contentious (e.g. infringement) and non-contentious (e.g. licensing) matters. If you have any queries regarding copyright or any other intellectual property rights, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us and we will be happy to assist. We offer free 30-minute consultations to all new clients at our offices in the Business Design Centre in Islington, London.