On the Ladybird vs Elia spat

Page from "How it works: the Husband" on the left; page from "We go to the gallery" on the right.
FIGHT!!!

This is my first two articles I wrote in the aftermath of the high-publicised row between Miriam Elia and Penguin Random House, when I still thought it was possible to calm down the hostilities. For the more up-to-date article following the online nastiness I got from Penguin supporters that prompted me to completely side against them, see Why I don’t believe Penguin’s side of the story.

COMMENT: The success story of the grown-up Ladybird books is overshadowed by an artist they took legal action against. Here’s why it’s time to make peace.

Over Christmas, a lot of you will have given or received any or all of the eight “Ladybird Books for grown-ups”. Just in case you’re one of the people who’s not heard of this, it was a brilliantly simple idea, sanctioned by Ladybird themselves, of writing new descriptions to illustrations from the classic children’s series Ladybird. Out goes the story from Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten, and it goes a tip from the Ladybird Guide to Dating as to how this woman pictured has been so busy running her online macaroon business she realises one day she’s forgotten to get married and sleeps on a torn mattress in the attic. This is largely the creation of Joel Morris and Jason Hazely, two writers who regularly contribute to Charlie Brooker’s wipes.

And this would be a lovely success story were it not for the allegations of plagiarism and legal shenanigans. The issue is that the year before, a small-time artist called Miriam Elia produced her own parody of a Ladybird book. That time, it was a parody of Peter and Jane where Mummy takes them to a modern art gallery; and it eviscerates the crap passed off as modern art, and also eviscerates the bollocks praise that people like Mummy lavish on the aforementioned crap. To the credit of many modern art galleries, they took this in good humour and some of them even stock the book. But Penguin, Publisher of Ladybird, claimed copyright, came to a settlement with Miriam Elia that involved pulping most of the books, and it wasn’t until this year – when the laws on copyright changed and parody was accepted as “fair use” of copyright material – that the books were reprinted. Continue reading