- The Artist and the Dictator -

According to a May 25, 2001 article in the New York Times, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, perhaps with the assistance of a committee of writers, published a novel, Zabibah and the King. (The article in question can be viewed on the New York Times web-site: www.nytimes.com In the event that the New York Times removes this story from their accessible archives, I have placed a copy of the story here.) According to a related article in the Boston Globe, Mohammed H. Radhi Al-Saffar, the Charge d'Affairs for the Iraqi Embassy in Ottowa, Canada, said it was "impossible" that this book could be in violation of copyright law; but, as unbelievable as it may seem, the cover art of Mr Hussein's novel is, in fact, The Awakening, an oil painting I created in 1998 - an image which has been published as a limited-edition print, and for which I hold the registered copyright.

The painting is not meant to "represent the Iraqi people...[before]...the arches of ancient Babylon" (as the New York Times article claims the book's author believes), and I certainly did not authorize the Iraqi President - or anyone else - to publish my work in this way. To state the matter simply, this printing of Zabibah and the King (with The Awakening on the cover) is a blatant infringement of copyright (but also kind of hilarious).

Me and my work - with a copy of Saddam's book,
sent to me by a fan in London, UK

The cover of
Zabibah and the King

It is perhaps not surprising that this book was not available in North America, but a fan in the U.K.was able to obtain a copy (from Saqi Books, an arab-language bookstore in London) and mailed it to me. I have confirmed that, in addition to the unauthorized use of The Awakening on the cover, this Iraqi Gov't publisher (at the request of the dictator, one assumes) also illegally reproduced 3 more of my images on the inside of the book: Guinevere, A Dark Knight, and Shadow Rapids also grace the pages of this notorious publication.

Lawyers told me that unless and until Saddam decides to publish and/or distribute his novel in the U.S. (an unlikely prospect it seems to me) there is no legal action that can be taken in U.S. courts, even though the image is indeed protected by registered copyright. This is fortunate for Mr. Hussein, because the penalties for infringement are considerable. Copyright law stipulates that the fine for copyright infringement shall be calculated at a rate of US$500.00 per infraction; each and every copy of Zabibah and the King upon which there is an illegally reproduced image of The Awakening is considered one infraction. And according to the Iraq Press, Zabibah and the King is the best selling book in Iraq's history: over 1,000,000 copies have been distributed.

As I write these words, it is almost one year since I learned of this truly strange event that has connected me with one of the most malefic, but nevertheless significant, figures of recent decades. It is difficult to know exactly how to respond to such an unbelievable story, and so I suppose I am perversely flattered and simply appalled. In the wake of the publicity surrounding the story, some people have wondered whether some of that media attention might translate into additional sales. This has not happened - which came as no surprise to me because "One of the favorite artists of the world's most bloodthirsty dictator!" did not seem like the kind of ad slogan that would send collectors running for their credit cards. Copyright is a very important principle that is worth defending, but this is, it seems, one of those unforseeable moments where you just have to shrug and walk away. Perhaps I should feign a righteous indignation, but the real truth of the matter is that I have not suffered from Mr. Hussein's actions (not that I'm aware of anyway); nor have I profited from them. And so what remains is an absurd, ridiculous story about an infamous tyrant who likes the work of an unknown painter of peaceful, mysterious women...

The Entrance Foyer to
The Goddess Art of Jonathon Earl Bowser