Visual Culture

An artist is asking Tesla CEO Elon Musk to pay for the rights to use his unicorn drawing in Tesla vehicles, but Musk isn’t budging.

Eli Hill
Jun 29, 2018 2:33PM, via the Guardian

The dispute began in February 2017, when Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter and posted an image of a mug, featuring a unicorn farting energy into a car. “Maybe my favorite mug ever,” wrote Musk. The artist behind the mug, Tom Edwards, initially reacted with excitement upon first seeing Musk’s post—and the resulting uptick in sales of the mug, which he first created in 2010.

However, subsequent posts gave Edwards pause. Last March, Musk used a recreation of the unicorn drawing to show off a new feature on Teslas’ touch screens which allows users to turn them into a sketchpad (news reports initially wrongly stated the drawing was Musk’s). Edwards later discovered that the sketch had been incorporated into a Christmas message from Musk that displayed on Tesla-owners’ touchscreens during the holiday season and as an icon in the Tesla operating system. This, Edwards felt, and lawyers reportedly confirmed to him, crossed the line into copyright infringement.

“It’s part of their branding now,” the artist told the Guardian. “I love the fact that it’s 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.” Rather than filing a lawsuit, Edwards aimed to settle the dispute amicably—and with a sense of humor.

As the Guardian reports:

On 23 May, Edwards’s lawyer, Tim Atkinson, sent a letter to Tesla’s 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”.

Neither Edwards nor his lawyer received a response from Tesla, so Edwards’s daughter, a musician called Lisa Prank, decided to reach out to him via Twitter:

Musk responded, telling Edwards’s daughter that he would change the image used in the operating system if the artist wanted. When pressed further by Prank, Musk wrote, “He can sue for money if he wants, but that’s kinda lame. If anything, this attention increased his mug sales.” Musk said that Tesla had not benefited financially from the image (Tesla declined to comment on any aspects of the allegations when asked by the Guardian). Since posting the responses, Musk has deleted all Tweets on the matter, as well as the original Tweet from February 2017 and the post promoting Tesla’s sketch pad.

Eli Hill