Copyright and Communists: the cover art for Revolutionary Baby

When I began to think about the cover for Revolutionary Baby the poster image by Nina Vatolina came to mind. I knew this image but I couldn’t recall where I had seen it. I thought it could be modified easily with title and author information inserted where the Russian text was. It was easy to find via the Big G. It is in the Tate Modern collection, under the following title:

 Fascism – The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everyone to the Struggle Against Fascism, August 1941; Nina Vatolina 1915-2002; DK0029

Nina Vatolina’s original poster: Fascism: the Most Evil Enemy of Women, 1941.

This powerful image appears all over the Internet and has already been used for the cover of one published book and I naively assumed it would be copyright free. However this was not so. The image is available for purchase from the Tate which has access to it on licence. Reproduction rights are subject to the usual requirements including payment for the use of a high quality image provided by the Tate. However, the Tate itself does not hold full copyright, only the licence to reproduce the image. The picture itself is subject to the artists own artistic copyright.  The situation was investigated by Chris Suthens of the Tate and I would like to thank him for his helpful advice (below, email of July 24th 2019).

I can let you know that the reproduction fee to include the Tate photography DK0029 on the front cover of a single printed edition, plus electronic use on the cover of a parallel e-book edition, world rights, English language, available on demand up to a total combined unit run of 5,000 copies/downloads will be £229.

If you find these terms agreeable and wish to go ahead please do let me know, confirming the name and address to be included on your invoice/licence and I shall send it over as soon as possible?

I’ll then be able to supply the hi res file as soon as payment is received.

I must mention that Nina Vatolina’s work is also still subject to her artistic copyright so you would need to obtain additional permission from the artist’s estate or their representatives. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to locate any contact details available for us to pass on so Tate’s own use has been on a risk management basis. We are happy to proceed and license the reproduction of the Tate image file though must stress that it would be the responsibility of yourselves to ensure that you have made every effort to identify and contact the artistic rights holders where possible and on the understanding that the use in relation to the artistic copyright would be at your risk. In the very unlikely event of a holder coming forward you may need to be able to demonstrate that due diligence has been conducted.

So even if I paid the required fee to the Tate to reuse the image, with my own modifications, I would still be in potential breach of the artist’s own copyright. But without being able to read and write Russian, and/or go to Russia to investigate who might be the holders of her estate, it is impossible to be sure that copyright requirements have been met.

How mad is this? I am sure Nina Vatolina, a sincere and committed Communist, would find it completely bizarre that nobody is now able to reproduce her art-work in any form without paying a fee to an August British art institution in the heartland of Western capitalism. I am grateful that the Tate does hold reproducible images of art works, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it would be in the spirit of Nina’s ideological or political thought that her work cannot be shared by others.

So I abandoned all idea of using this image and commissioned my Mexico-based illustrator Keith Johnson [Keith Draws] to create something for me. In the event, he created the cover for the second volume of stories, Radiant Sands, at the same time, and many thanks to him for his great work.

Meanwhile, though, I became fascinated by the situation of Communist artists such as Nina Vatolina, and did some additional research on the subject, shortly to appear on my art-writing site

Just as a taste, here is one of her poster illustrations featuring Stalin.

Nina Vatolina: Grandpa Stalin brings Christmas gifts to the children of Mother Russia: lovely bombs and warplanes!

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