Artist upset over use of whale plate funds

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The Laguna Beach artist who created California’s whale-tail license plate is making a splash with state coastal officials, revoking the state’s right to use his art after they snubbed his request to share profits from the image with his environmental group. The Times’ Susannah Rosenblatt reports:

Robert Wyland, the marine muralist whose paintings of ocean life envelop buildings around the world, let the state use his hazy blue image of a whale’s flukes for environmentally themed license plates 14 years ago in what state officials describe as a ‘handshake deal.'The artist approached the Coastal Commission several months ago asking for 20% of the state’s annual profits from the plates to fund his nonprofit ocean conservation foundation. California earns about $3.77 million a year from the plates, but the Coastal Commission receives only a third of the funds: about $15 for each new plate sold. The rest goes to other state environmental programs.'At the end of the day, the whale tail is my art and my idea, and I own the rights to my intellectual property,’ Wyland said in an interview Tuesday from his Laguna Beach studio. ‘I won’t be stepped on: I’m sticking up for artists’ rights, for the common person. I’m sticking up for the oceans and the coast big-time. We’re not going away.’

There are an estimated 126,000 whale-tail plates are on California roads, Rosenblatt reports that the battle may end up in court.

--Francisco Vara-Orta