Friday, September 6, 2013

A Word About the Steal Your Face

 A little while back, I posted about Phish "no-no" designs, variations on the Phish logo, or the blatant use of the name or likenesses. Because of what I see as the sense of entitlement within the artist community, I got a lot of flak for that post. I still will stand behind it, and encourage others to do the same. However, in the end, people are going to do what they are going to do.

The one thing I keep hearing from young and older fans alike, is that the Steal Your Face is fair game. From my point of view since the image has appeared on album covers, it was no longer just a symbol that Owsley and Bob Thomas created to tell the band's gear apart from other gear. It was a brand. Similar to the other album covers and art created by Kelly/Mouse, these graphics became lasting iconic symbols for the
band. If it's not legal, or "ok" to use Phish's logo, why would any other band's logo be different?
Terrapin Station Cover by Kelly Mouse studios

We are not talking about corporate logo mash-up's here. Consider Banksy's quote about advertiser's who do not give you a choice as to whether you view their ads.:
Any advert you see in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
link from
First of all, let's not get into a debate about that quote being plagiarized from Sean Tejaratchi's Crap Hound magazine piece in 1999. Instead, let's examine why this is a such an inspirational piece of text, and why it applies here. Using Tide to represent the song Glide is not the same as just taking the Phish logo and making it say whatever you want. There is actually a court ruling that says this type of design does not infringe on Phish's intellectual property.  (Phish, Inc. v. Knighthood) Altering Phish's actual logo is. The same is true for a Steal Your Face. Whether it be a sports team, an EDM logo, or a Wu-Tang reference (Even if you ignore the fact Jerry did not consider rap to be music.), it is not yours to re-arrange. It is not an advertisement. You have a choice.

This follow up post was inspired by a conversation in a FaceBook group with a guy I met named Bryan. Bryan remembered a page from The Illustrated Trip biography that referred to this very situation. He was diligent and kind enough to type out the entire Robert Hunter quote which flies in the face of the "we can do whatever we want with these logos" conventional wisdom that exists today.
In the parking lots & fringes of gigs, an artisan culture sprouted up naturally, & just as naturally alerted the business world at large of the profits to be gained from rock tie-ins. In light of this annoying knowledge, our lawyers decided to shut down the artisans en toto because of the influx of true counterfeiters, merchandise companies who dumped great quantities of bad tie-dyes in our lot, due to our laissez-faire non-policy. The counterfeiters were overcome & the artisans responded by continuing to create the forms sans logo or else using the trademarks surreptitiously. But, the commercial dogs were unleashed. They're hard to train & don't differentiate. Trying to stop corporate commercialism resulted in the evolution of new product by artisans that was reminiscent of the feel if not the logocentricity of what was already in creation. Generic. That particular bad decision didn't stymie the growth of the art, only it's GD specificity. W/o apology, that's how it went down. You see how it is. Conclusions to which we were led by the very system we tried to cut looses from. - Robert Hunter
 The baby was thrown out with the bathwater because there was no way to stop just the counterfeiters. Or, at least that's how I interpret this. This blog post is an attempt at clarity. If you really do care, and you really want to be original, you are going to have to take a risk of creating something nobody has seen before. Trust me, it's an extremely difficult thing to do. If I didn't have thick skin, I would not be an artist. For every 1 person that likes what you do, there are 10 people behind him that think you suck. I see this as a huge part of the reason that the SYF is so often butchered. It's easy, recognizable, and it's likely that someone will buy it. No one wants to take any risks.

Bullocks amazing Dicks 2013 print
So, you can flame me for drawing my own line if you like. Everyone has an opinion. But these symbols hold sacredness to me. So, I won't be the one printing SYF's or Terrapins.

Let these images inspire you! Create something we've never seen. There are a lot of artists doing this right now, and they are doing it extremely well. Be selective about what you buy in the lot, collectors.

Check out AJ Masthay or Isadora Bullock or maybe check out a poster show the next time one is scheduled when you are on tour.

There is amazing art everywhere if you look.

Dicks 2013 by Jon Rose


  1. Well written, Jiggs. I agree completely. I saw so many cases of copyright infringement last weekend in Commerce City it was crazy. At this point EVERYONE knows you cant put the word PHISH on any poster/shirt you are selling. I also think it would help some of these rip-off artists to look up the word "LIKENESS". And after they look it up, most will probably have to ask what it actually means. Keep doin' what you're doin' Jiggs.


    1. And as cool as they are, the bobble-heads of Leo behind a piano (along with the rest of the band with their instruments would violate the "Likeness" that the band has control over.


    2. I've heard that the banjo- tamborine terrapins were borrowed from an illustrated nursery rhyme book, i've been trying to find a picture of the original

    3. I would LOVE to see this. Although it would not change my point of view.

  2. fuck off, my pollock pins are genius