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ONTARIO: Who owns the copyright to a skyline?

What exactly can a business do with the image of Barrie's iconic Spirit Catcher

A local non-profit business owner says his attempts to use the likeness of the famous Spirit Catcher sculpture in his advertising have been shot down by the current copyright holder.

John Ironside said he thought long and hard before coming up with a logo for his new non-profit venture, the City of Barrie Network.

The business aims to match non-profit videography about local causes and people with local business sponsorship to promote both with a hyper-local focus.

Ironside sees it as a win-win and hoped to have a logo that represented the local focus.

“Essentially, we wanted something that said ‘Barrie’... the whole community, inclusion, everything. The local First Nations, the local LGBTQ, it’s all part of what we cover. As such, we wanted a symbol that just kind of... brought the whole community together,” Ironside tells BarrieToday.

“The sculpture is at the heart of our community.”

The business logo has a likeness of the Spirit Catcher at the top, but is cut off at the bottom and overlayed with two hands holding a heart around the business names.

Ironside sees the rules being enforced on some business owners and groups but not on others, which is why the decision of the MacLaren Art Centre to not allow the use of the art upsets him.

“When looking at other examples that people have used... a lot of other community groups use this logo. But they paint it their own way, and nobody seems to have a problem with that,” he says. “We asked to use it, and suddenly there’s an issue.

“In my opinion, we’re not doing anything to take away from the sculpture,” says Ironside.

According to correspondence shared with BarrieToday between Ironside and Emily McKibbon, associate curator and collections manager with the MacLaren Art Centre, the issue with Ironside’s request lies in his modifications to the design, not the use of the likeness of the sculpture itself.

McKibbon explained to Ironside in an email that the original sculptor, Ron Baird, signed over the economic copyright of the Spirit Catcher to the MacLaren Art Centre in recognition of their ownership of the artwork and their responsibilities in maintaining the Spirit Catcher at its current site on the Barrie waterfront.

However, moral rights cannot be transferred.

McKibbon writes that moral rights include the rights to attribution, integrity and association of a work, and that in this instance integrity refers to an artist’s rights not to have an artwork distorted, mutilated or otherwise modified.

“Because an artist’s moral rights cannot be transferred, the MacLaren Art Centre cannot authorize any use of the Spirit Catcher that modifies the artwork’s design in any way,” wrote McKibbon.

“However, if you are willing to modify your logo in a way that returns the artwork to its original form (in this case, moving the Five Points logo, adding the third leg and separating the hands from the base of the artwork to make it clear that it is a separate graphic element) than we can approve its use,” McKibbon adds.

Requests for comment sent to McKibbon from BarrieToday bounced back with a notice she is on vacation until Aug. 27.

Ironside disagrees with McKibbon that he has modified the image.

“We have not modified it. All we have done is cut it off at the legs. It seems to be unnecessarily complicated,” says Ironside.

The Spirit Catcher, situated on Barrie's waterfront, was designed by Baird for the 1986 EXPO in Vancouver. Originally installed at False Creek in Vancouver, the 20-tonne Corten-steel sculpture was purchased by the Helen McCrea Peacock Foundation of Toronto and was donated to the Barrie Gallery Project (later the MacLaren Art Centre) in 1987.

The Spirit Catcher became the first work of the MacLaren Art Centre's permanent collection and is still the centre's largest piece.

Baird’s inspiration behind the design was to build a monumental piece. At the time, it was a west-coast project and the world’s fair was interested in showing reconciliation with Indigenous people.

“I didn’t want to appropriate a native design, I just wanted to honour it,” Baird told BarrieToday when reached this week for an interview.

“It’s very interesting because I’ve done probably over 300 public commissions, and none have resonated as strongly as the Spirit Catcher has,” he says. “It took a while for that interest to build in it... it was there for a while before the interest really started to build.”

“I think it’s a phenomena. I love it. It doesn’t feel like my piece anymore. The citizens of Barrie have taken ownership of it,” Baird laughs.

Baird confirms that the MacLaren Art Centre is responsible for overseeing copyright.

“I’m very grateful to them for doing that,” he says. “We’ve had many discussions in the past, and I’ve asked them to interpret the copyright as freely as possible because we’d like as many people to be able to use it to promote non-profits and the city, as long as it’s within the bounds and regulations that they set out. That’s up the them, and I think they do a great job.

“It’s a hard thing to do because people are inquiring all the time for use,” Baird adds. “You’d be astounded.”

Baird says he doesn’t care for modification of the design, but doesn’t get involved in copyright claims himself.

“I’ve kind of given up my attachment, but it does make me bristle when I see unauthorized uses of the Spirit Catcher symbol in inappropriate places,” says Baird. “It tends to lessen it.”

Overall, Baird is proud to have created something that resonates with so many people.

“It’s certainly done what public sculpture is supposed to do, which is to be a kind of marker or identifier for a community. In this case, the community has embraced it and I think that’s terrific,” he says.

Baird, who lives in nearby Beaverton, is working on a sister piece to match the Spirit Catcher that will live also on Lake Simcoe, but at the Beaverton waterfront. The sculpture, called Sky Woman, will be on the Beaverton Harbour.

“The two pieces will kind of be parentheses guarding the lake,” says Baird.

When considering where to go from here, Ironside seems to feel a bit defeated in his quest.

“Obviously, if they say no, they say no, and that’s it,” he says. “We accept that, but it strikes me as something that is a loss to the community.

“It’s not like we’re a company trying to sell this. We’re trying to tell stories about people that need help, and this strikes me as a perfect symbol for that.”


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 15 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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