‘Oldboy’ poster shows arms, but artist’s ‘theft’ claim doesn’t have legs

December 9, 2013

Oldboy poster comparisonDid you see “Oldboy” this weekend? Not many people did.

I’m not too interested in talking about “Oldboy’s” complete inconsistency or its terrible misuse of a talented cast. (Can you tell I wasted 10 bucks on it?)

Rather, what interests me was a graphic artist’s claim that the film studio behind the movie used his “stolen” idea for its promotional poster.

Now, this is one of those stories that has morphed as it’s been filtered through the various prisms of the Internet. Different versions seem to exist, but the general gist is this: The artist, Juan Luis Garcia, claimed that an agency from which he had recently been dismissed used artwork for an “Oldboy” poster that he created without crediting him. He wrote a public appeal to “Oldboy” director Spike Lee, only to be met with indifference.

Garcia has now clammed up (purportedly and believably at the advice of his counsel), so we might never know who did what and when.

I was intrigued, though, by the idea that the poster concept was “his.”

Generally, intellectual property laws protect specific expressions of ideas, not ideas themselves. This is why nobody could ever copyright the idea of a love song, for example.

Here’s the version of the “Oldboy” poster the studio used and here’s a side-by-side comparison of what Garcia claims was his concept.

I’m sympathetic to artists, especially when they feel they’re being mistreated by bigger, better-funded entities, like movie studios. Looking at those two posters, though, I feel like Garcia might be out of luck.

First, both posters depict an actual scene from the movie. Garcia’s poster isn’t terribly high-concept, unique or original.

Second, I see enough differences between the two posters that I can’t really side with Garcia. The focus and cropping are not the same, that mysterious woman in the background is positioned differently, and the official poster shows Josh Brolin’s face. I find that last difference to be significant because A.) it’s calling on Brolin’s star power, which Garcia evidently chose not to do and B.) showing the main character’s face is artistically different from suggesting it’s an anonymous person in that Louis Vuitton trunk.

Reasonable minds could disagree here, though. Your thoughts?