I have heard you wish to walk me through your garden

The publicity surrounding Penguin’s new series of humorous Ladybird books has provoked an odd reaction from artist Miriam Elia, whose limited edition Ladybird spoof We Go To The Gallery was withdrawn from sale last year after complaints from the publisher.

First she put a spoof cover on her website for a ‘Dung Beetle’ book entitled ‘We sue an artist (and then rip off her idea)’. Then she wrote a passive-aggressive piece for the Guardian stating that Penguin “were right to threaten me with legal action…[and] to call my work morally bankrupt (which it is)”.

The publisher has not ripped off her idea. Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, the authors of the new books, included a selection of Ladybird parodies in Historic Framley, a comedy book published by Penguin in 2003.

Secondly, Penguin never sued Elia and no formal action was begun. The publisher gave her a month to sell enough copies of her book to cover her costs and asked for an undertaking that any surplus copies would be destroyed. Elia’s mistakes were to use the Ladybird colophon and collages of original Ladybird copyright material without permission.

At the time, the Guardian reported her as saying that Penguin had “been sympathetic and open to negotiation”, quoting her directly saying “they do understand” and “there’s no malice”. A far cry from the accusations of “corporate vandalism” she’s now levelling.

Meanwhile, Elia was recently selling “limited edition” signed prints of the ‘We sue an artist’ cover for £180. Unfortunately, the print once again uses Ladybird copyright material without permission, this time an illustration from 1970’s Learning With Mother: Book Two.

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