Amy M. Lavine – Apologies to all the monkeys and ghosts out there, but copyrights are for humans

The law is pretty settled nowadays that copyright protection only attaches to works of art created by human beings. PETA tried to test this rule recently when it filed litigation claiming that a monkey who used a photographer’s camera to take a selfie was entitled to copyright in the image, rather than the photographer, who merely supplied the camera. Despite the arguments about sentience and simian creativity, however, the court ultimately ruled that the U.S. copyright system simply wasn’t created with any intention of protecting non-human works of art.

Amy M Lavine

Ghosts are also ineligible for copyright protection. The issue might seem silly today, but a serious legal conundrum back in 1917 asked whether Mark Twain’s ghost should get the copyright for a novel it allegedly transcribed via Ouija board, Jap Herron, or whether the copyright properly belonged to the deceased Mark Twain’s estate. The ghost transcriptionist and/or the actual author of the book eventually decided to pull the book from publication rather than risk losing in court, so unfortunately the court didn’t get a chance to discuss the copyright implications of immortality.

Amy M Lavine is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur based in Hudson, NY. As the owner of Sketch Stationery, which designs and produces paper goods with a focus on local artists and historic images of the Hudson Valley, Lavine takes a keen interest in copyright law and its application to two-dimensional works.



Amy M. Lavine – No, Vantablack isn’t copyrighted

Amy M Lavine
A selection of black oil paints. Photo credit Amy M Lavine 2016.

Vantablack, a material invented by Surrey Nanosystems in 2014, is the blackest black ever created. Although originally developed for use on satellites, Surrey recently awarded an exclusive right to all fine art applications of Vantablack to artist Anish Kapoor, and this exclusivity deal has been roundly criticized in dozens of articles and editorials. The legal language used in many of these articles is inaccurate, however: Vantablack isn’t copyrighted, because you can’t copyright a color.

A copyright can be obtained for any artwork that contains the original expression of an idea, and while the bar for originality is quite low, there are several important limits. Significantly, copyrights only protect the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. Additionally, some type of artistic expression is required for a work to be copyrightable, and useful articles do not qualify.

Vantablack isn’t copyrightable both because it’s an idea rather than the expression of an idea, and because it’s a useful article rather than an artistic expression. This doesn’t mean that Vantablack is devoid of intellectual property protections, however. To the contrary, as an invention the color is certainly eligible for patent protection, and this is indeed the source of the exclusivity rights Surrey granted to Kapoor. The name “Vantablack” can also be trademarked, and any expressive artworks Kapoor creates using the color will be copyrightable.

This article was written by Amy M Lavine, an artist and attorney based in Hudson, NY. If you have questions about Vantablack or the copyright issues discussed in this article, contact Amy M Lavine at

Amy M. Lavine – The inky history of the ballpoint pen

Amy M Lavine
A handful of colorful ballpoint pens. Photo credit Amy M Lavine 2016.

The concept behind the ballpoint pen has been around since 1888, when the first patent for a ballpoint was issued, but early ballpoints were mostly doomed because the only ink available at the time was thin fountain pen ink that leaked and smeared when used with ball-tips. These problems weren’t solved until the 1940s, when the Biro brothers invented a more viscous and faster drying ink and produced an improved design that reduced leaking.

Large-scale distribution of ballpoints pens began in France after Marcel Bich bought the patent to the brothers’ pen and renamed them “Bics.” He lowered the cost of ballpoints from about $10 in 1946 to 19 cents in 1959 (about the same cost as today), making them an economical choice and giving them an additional commercial edge over fountain pens, which required frequent refills and cleaning and which often leaked and clogged. Bics soon became incredibly popular and eventually became the ubiquitous product they are today.

Along with their success, ballpoints had an unforeseen consequence: they sounded the death knell for cursive handwriting. This occurred because the viscous ink that makes ballpoints so convenient also requires them to be held with more pressure and at a more vertical angle than fountain pens. As a result, ballpoints make it difficult to join letters together in fluid script and encourage handwriting with more separation instead.

Amy M Lavine is the owner of Sketch Art Supplies. For questions about ballpoints or any other pens, contact Amy M Lavine at


Amy M. Lavine on zoning law and the Second Amendment

Amy M Lavine

The March 2016 edition of the Zoning and Planning Law Report contains an article by Amy M Lavine on zoning and the Second Amendment. The article, In the Zone of Fire: Land Use Restrictions for Shooting Ranges, Gun Dealers, and Similar Uses, discusses the Supreme Court’s recent gun control decisions and their impact on municipalities attempting to regulate the use of property for shooting ranges and gun dealerships. It also discusses more typical zoning issues that arise with local gun control laws, such as special permit requirements, zoning district prohibitions, and state law preemption.

As Lavine explains in the article, although zoning can help ensure that firearms-related property uses comply with local land use policies, municipalities must be careful to avoid unduly restricting the right to bear arms in violation of the Second Amendment, and they must also respect restrictions on firearms regulations contained in state zoning and gun control laws. Despite these legal considerations, however, Lavine concludes that “gun control has emerged as an increasingly important public concern, and zoning provides an effective opportunity for local governments to proactively manage the development of shooting ranges, gun dealers, and other firearms-related land uses.”

Amy M Lavine

Amy M Lavine is an attorney based in Hudson, NY. She has written extensively about zoning, eminent domain, and other state and local government law issues for publications such as Salkin’s  and the Urban Lawyer. Lavine is also an artist and entrepreneur and currently owns Sketch Hudson, an art supply and stationery retailer.


Amy M Lavine: Understanding artists’ pens

Amy M Lavine, the owner of SKETCH Art Supplies in Hudson, New York, knows very well that different types of pens produce lines with different characteristics and different uses. “We stock nearly a hundred different pens and markers here,” she says, “and they’ve all got their own particular pros and cons.”

Amy M Lavine
Amy M Lavine

As Lavine explains, pens can be broadly separated into a few different categories, including dip pens, fountain pens, felt tips, ball points, rollerballs, and gel pens. SKETCH even carries an inkless pen now, she says, which uses a special metal alloy that leaves a fine trace of the material when written with to produce a mark.

Different types of artists’ pens, Lavine explains, can have very different qualities. The pressure applied while writing with a fountain or dip pen, for example, can be varied as a person is using it to create a line with fluctuating widths, whereas a felt tip or gel pen will have a more even and consistent line. The shape of a pen’s tip or “nib” will also affect the shape of the line it produces, which is why chisel points or brush tips are used for calligraphy while fine points are used for technical drawing.

At SKETCH, Amy M Lavine is always happy to discuss the different types of pens and their pros and cons when helping customers make the best selection for their purposes. For any questions, you can also email her directly at

Amy M Lavine – Promoting local arists through custom-designed stationery

SKETCH Art Supplies, which was opened in Hudson, New York by Amy M Lavine in 2012, recently produced calendars featuring the work of local artist Kenneth Young. The calendars, which include paintings of different Warren Street scenes, were first sold at SKETCH in December 2013 and were so successful that Lavine increased the printing run for the 2015 calendars. The new version included a number of new paintings from Kenneth Young, including a surrealist view of the SKETCH storefront for the month of August.

Amy M Lavine

 In addition to printing Young’s Warren Street calendars, Lavine also produced a second 2015 calendar featuring the work of another Hudson artist, Earl Swanigan. Often described as an “outsider artist,” the paintings featured in Swanigan’s calendar mostly included whimsical scenes with anthropomorphized animals.

In addition to the calendars, both Young and Swanigan are also featured on postcards and greeting cards designed by Lavine and sold at SKETCH year-round. Lavine prints and sells cards for several other local artists too, as well as printing cards that feature classic paintings from the Hudson River School and other unique fine art images.

As an attorney who decided to leave her academic career in order to pursue a different path as an art materials supplier and small-town shopkeeper, Amy M Lavine has always be open to collaborations between SKETCH and other local artists and arts organizations. “I love being a part of this community,” she explained, “and helping local artists to distribute their imagery more widely is a great way to promote them as well as the city as a whole.”