Thousands of visitors to the FDR Memorial have enjoyed and photographed George Segal's sculpture of men in a Depression bread line. But when the image appears in a bank brochure, it raises ire and copyright questions.

OUT OF LINE?

September 15, 1998|By CARL SCHOETTLER | CARL SCHOETTLER,SUN STAFFF

They are five gaunt men, queued up in a Depression-era bread line. Wearing 1930s-style caps and fedoras, hands plunged into the pockets of shabby coats, each appears isolated in his own desperation.

For renowned sculptor George Segal, these figures he created and installed as part of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial dedicated in Washington last year are among his most ambitious and personally meaningful works. The 73-year-old lived through the Depression. He even used himself as a model for one of the figures.

That's why he is not at all amused that his somber work has turned up in a cute ad campaign for giant First Union National Bank, the nation's sixth-largest bank.

"That bank ripped me off," says Segal, who many consider among the great American sculptors of the 20th century. "I think it's extremely inappropriate. It takes an image made for a serious presidential memorial and trivializes it in the service of a bank that wants to attract business."

First Union, a $20 billion, Charlotte, N.C.-based bank with branches throughout Maryland, used photographs of the memorial figures in a brochure and ads for its College Express Checking services.

The brochure uses a photograph of four of Segal's bread line figures to promote its express account as one "that encourages college students to get out of line."

On the cover, one of the men is whited out and the caption carries the warning: "Standing in line can lead to petrification, as evidenced by The Statues at Roosevelt Memorial." In an ironic mischance, the figure blanked out is Segal.

The image is used again inside the cover, and four single figures illustrate the copy inside, which exhorts students to "eschew the queue" and "open your account on line, not in line."

"The day you hit freshman orientation, life becomes a line," the booklet says. "At registration. In the bookstore. At the athletic ticket office. The last place you want to spend time is in a teller line."

Or perhaps a bread line.

Segal's name does not appear in the brochure, and nowhere is he credited for creating the sculpture.

"They did not get in touch with me," he says by phone from his home in North Brunswick, N.J. As far as he is concerned, "They did not get permission to use the image. If they had done so, I would have refused."

The work, he says, is copyrighted. "It's a total indifference on the part of that bank," Segal says.

Sandra Deem, a First Union corporate relations representative, acknowledged that the bank did not seek Segal's approval.

"We do apologize to the sculptor," she said in response to a phone inquiry. "We certainly did not mean to offend anyone. It was a piece targeted to the college market and it was a limited quantity that was printed and it was a relatively limited circulation."

Segal had not yet heard from the bank yesterday.

The expresss account campaign was a limited back-to-school promotion, according to Deem, and was already being pulled from First Union branches.

Still, she asserts that First Union had the right to use the artwork.

"We didn't go to him directly," she says. "We actually got it from a CD. When we bought the CD, we gained the rights to use what's on that CD."

Hundreds of such CDs are full of stock digital images meant for use by advertising art directors and other media users. Deem was not sure which CD First Union used.

Stock photography

"We purchased it with the understanding that it was stock photography and the marketer had all the rights for use," Deem )) says. "The marketer should take care of rights," she adds, and any copyright questions should be worked out between Segal and the photographer.

Segal had already enlisted the help of the Visual Arts and Galleries Association, which represents him and about 500 other artists in copyright disputes.

"There's a lot of infringement of art," says Bob Panzer, executive director of the association, which includes Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and the estates of Grant Wood and Stuart Davis in its fold of artists.

"Grant Wood's 'American Gothic,' " he remarks. "That's being ripped off constantly."

The association fired off a letter to First Union Chairman and Chief Executive Edward E. Crutchfield demanding the bank stop using the image.

"Mr. Segal," the letter said in part, "was commissioned to honor Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the monumental problems he and this country faced during the Depression.

"Your use of this work makes light of the period and the people who suffered. Furthermore it is insulting to the artist and perhaps implies his endorsement of your product. This is something Mr. Segal would never do."

Mark Newman, a Washington patent attorney, pretty much agreed that Segal's rights had been disregarded. He likened First Union's use of an image of the sculpture to the playing of a record in a nightclub or bar where the songwriter is still due royalties for any song played.

Part of a tableaux

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