Freak Alley artists are being dragged into the kind of squabble most artists hate -the kind that forces them to worry about profits and legal details instead of being creative.
Jim Grissom, owner of Initial Response on Bannock Street, is selling T-shirts and prints of photographed artwork on the walls lining the alley between 8th and 9th and Bannock and Idaho streets.
Grissom said the artists forfeit their rights to the images they create when they sign contracts with Freak Alley Gallery, the organization that manages the alley's collection.
He said the contract affords him the right to reproduce and sell images of the artwork.
That's nonsense, said Colby Akers, founder of Freak Alley Gallery. As long as the art is on the alley walls, Akers said, the artists share their rights to it with the gallery. Once the image is removed or covered up, he said, the gallery's claim expires and the artists assume exclusive rights.
At no point does the public, Grissom or any other business owner along the alley own rights to the artists' intellectual property, Akers said.
Grissom said the Freak Alley T-shirts and prints are his way of promoting the art and Downtown Boise, which he believes the city doesn't do aggressively enough.
"I'm not trying to hurt anyone or do anything illegal," he said. "I'm just trying to survive."
The gallery has organized Freak Alley artwork since the early 2000s. Artists submit ideas for paintings or other pieces to Akers, who sometimes enlists the help of peers in choosing which proposals are the best fits for the alley. Most of the pieces are removed or covered up after a year.
Freak Alley artists' response to Grissom's use of their work has been varied. Some are bothered by what they believe is illegal reproduction. Some say it's not worth worrying about because there's so little money involved.
"I think if somebody were making a ton of money off it, that would get my attention," said Kerry Moosman, who made a ceramic tile piece at the alley's west end.
Grissom said he's lost substantial money on the T-shirts and has sold about 10 of the prints for between $35 and $40 apiece.
Artist Solomon Sahlein's Freak Alley art includes a graffiti-style "Fantasia" scene. He said he doesn't mind Grissom using the artwork for prints and shirts. What bothers him is that Grissom didn't ask for permission.
"Maybe if this dude would have asked us, 'Hey man, can I take some pictures of your stuff? I was going to make some T-shirts out of it.' I probably would have been, like, 'You know what, that's cool,'" Sahlein said. "I can respect another local businessman doing his thing. We're all kind of in the same boat. Boise's not a big place to be trying to make a business work."
Akers said he likes Grissom's Freak Alley idea and even thought about doing something similar himself.
"I wanted to use (Grissom) in that process, but he just kind of ran the process over and started doing whatever he wanted with anybody's work," Akers said.
This isn't Grissom's first dispute over publicly displayed art in Boise. More than a year ago, Boise public arts manager Karen Bubb told Grissom he didn't have rights to sell a poster he had produced that showed a collage of art on traffic boxes at street corners around the city.
Grissom said he immediately stopped selling the posters and hasn't resumed. He said he wanted permission from the traffic box artists to use the images and asked Bubb to put him in touch with them.
Bubb sent the artists a letter that included Grissom's contact information and a warning that "Mr. Grissom's use of your images without your consent may constitute a breach of your copyright." Bubb also said the city of Boise couldn't become involved in the dispute and that any recourse had to come from the artists themselves.
As in the Freak Alley dispute, traffic box artists' responses ranged from irritation to indifference.
Sven Berg: 377-6275