Elon Musk, Farting Unicorns and Copyright Law: A Promo Story

by Tom Higgins

Yes, you read that headline right. Allow us to explain.

Back in February 2017, in a since-deleted tweet, Elon Musk posted a photo of a mug featuring the image of a cartoon unicorn farting electricity into an electric car, calling it “maybe my favorite mug ever.” Tom Edwards, the Colorado-based potter who made the mug, was delighted to receive recognition for his work, especially from someone as influential as Musk.

This delight didn’t last too long, however, as Edwards discovered a month later that Musk had posted another since-deleted tweet featuring a copy of his unicorn cartoon to promote Tesla’s new sketch pad feature, which allows drivers to draw on the car’s built-in touchscreen.

As it turns out, Tesla was also using the image as a small icon for its operating system and would even come to turn it into a Christmas card.

Despite admitting an appreciation for Musk’s sustainable business ventures, Edwards has decided that he needed to defend his ownership of the Wallyware brand of cartoon-adorned pottery he has been working on for nearly 40 years.

On May 23 of this year, Edwards’ lawyer sent a letter to Tesla’s general counsel in an attempt to reach an amicable, mutual resolution to the obvious instance of copyright violation. Tesla has yet to respond.

In the meantime, however, Musk found time to argue with the artist’s daughter online, claiming that the decision to use the cartoon was not his choice and arguing that, if anything, Tesla’s use of the farting unicorn had only boosted Edwards’ mug sales.

As of Wednesday, the image was still being used in Tesla’s cars. Edwards reportedly intends to continue with his efforts to reach out to Musk, though no lawsuit has yet been filed. For him, it’s all about making sure that artists get paid for their work, especially in cases where corporations insist on using their designs without permission.

“I realize my farting unicorn is not as serious as whistleblowers,” he admitted to the Guardian. “But honestly, it’s all about integrity.”

While we freely and fully acknowledge Mr. Musk's promotional prowess (flamethrowerslife-sized lego brickshats), we can't support copyright infringement of any kind, especially when the scales are as unbalanced as they are here. We'll keep you posted as this saga unfolds, if for no reason other than the fact that we relish the opportunity to write about farting unicorns whenever possible.

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