Giant Rubber Duck Project Runs A-Fowl in Philly

The Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden Festival announced on May 27th that Rocky, the World’s Largest Rubber Duck, would be joining the festivities. The festival is held on the Delaware River and hosts a parade of a dozen beautifully crafted tall ships hailing from around the globe as well as local attractions. The 61’ tall, 11 ton rubber duck, affectionately named Rocky, is the creation of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who has recently filed a formal complaint regarding the use of the rubber duck in Philadelphia without his permission.

Hofman’s ducks are a part of his project Spreading Joy Around the World which, according to his website, “knows no frontiers, it doesn’t discriminate people and doesn’t have a political connotation.”

“The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial (world) tensions as well as define them,” he added.

The giant rubber duck has made a number of appearances around the world, with the first sighting in Osaka in 2007 and the most recent Hofman-authorized project in Los Angeles in August of 2014. Rocky, made his U.S. debut in September, 2013, in Pittsburgh, drawing more than 1 million visitors. Other stops around the world have included Taiwan, New Zealand, Belgium, and Brazil, Interestingly, it is not the same giant duck in each of the displays, nor does Hofman himself create each duck for the individual exhibits. The event coordinator contacts Hofman who, in turn, provides the plans and specifications for the requested duck. The event coordinator must then employ a local contractor to construct the ducks from inflatable materials according to Hofman’s design.

Rocky, The World’s Largest Duck, was the promotional highlight of the materials for the Los Angeles Tall Ships Festival and there are still images of the giant duck on its website’s cover page. Some of the same people promoting the L.A. Tall Ships Festival are involved with the Philadelphia Festival as well and this is where Rocky’s debut in Philly deflates. According to the complaint by Hofman, the specifications designed for the L.A. exhibit were intended solely for that event. However, the plans for the L.A. duck were apparently being re-purposed for the Philadelphia exhibit without permission from the designing artist. In an interview in Philadelphia Magazine, Hofman states that he received emails from Philadelphia residents expressing excitement over his display being shown in their city.

“I was shocked,” Hofman stated in the phone interview. “They don’t have permission to show my duck again. And they are charging money for tickets. I want this rubber duck for the whole world to see. It is sad. They make it into this joke, but the rubber duck is not a joke. It is serious artwork which connects all people in the world.”

According to Hofman, he was never even paid for the L.A. duck and he believes that same duck has been moved to the Philadelphia Tall Ships Festival to promote it in a similar manner in which it was used in California. However, Craig Samborski, Tall Ships Philadelphia Producer, disagrees with Hofman’s assessment of the situation.

Samborski claims that Hofman was paid, although he concedes that Hofman may not have received the full payment. There were also apparently some conflicts during the construction of the L.A. duck. Samborski maintains that the Philadelphia duck is not the same duck used on the West Coast.

“It’s not his duck,” Samborski insisted in the interview with Philadelphia Magazine. “It’s just another large inflatable duck.”

According to Samborski, Hofman also did not deliver the requested specifications for the L.A. project. Hofman provided, what appeared to be, artist sketches for a 12 meter duck when the team was expecting blueprints with architectural specifications for an 18 meter duck.

“They weren’t engineered plans. They were line drawings,” says Samborski.

“The two companies I went to wouldn’t even build it based on his plans,” he adds. “It wasn’t structurally safe.” Samborski says that it was up to him to contract with a local contractor to build a working model of the artist’s sketches. In addition, the now-defunct company that contracted with Hofman for the Los Angeles Festival is not the same company that is organizing the Philadelphia Festival, although Samborski is associated with both of them. Samborski adds that, although the previous Los Angeles company had a contract with Hofman,  he does not personally have a contract with the artist. Hofman believes that if a reasonable compromise cannot be met, he may need to involve a lawyer.

Ironically, this is not the first time that Hofman has raised copyright complaints over the rubber duck icon. In 2013, Taipei Times reported that Jerry Fan, an advertising consultant working with the Hofman exhibit in Taiwan, was accused of copyright infringement when he included rubber duck merchandise that differed from the approved Hofman Rubber Duck. Fan had argued that Hofman does not own the copyright to the iconic rubber duck figure and since Hofman’s rubber duck was not patented in Taiwan, he cannot claim exclusive copyright to the image.

Although Fan was ultimately forced to comply by the city of Keelung, he is not the only one who shares that opinion. Jordan La Vine, a prominent Philadelphia intellectual property attorney with Flaster Greenberg, bid Hofman good luck in the interview with Philadelphia Magazine.

“He is essentially claiming a copyright in large rubber ducks,” He notes. “The touchstone question here is, does his work have enough originality that copyright would attach to it. A rubber duck is an extremely common thing, and making a very large one does not necessarily give someone copyright rights in that artistic expression. This just looks like a standard rubber ducky.”

Update: When Philadelphia Magazine reported on this story, the Tall Ships Los Angeles website credited Hofman with the creation of Rocky, The World’s Largest Rubber Duck. That credit has since been removed as a result of this dispute.

Photo Credit: By PghPhxNfk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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