Unconditional Surrender

Copyright infringement

Seward Johnson claimed in a Herald Tribune article he used a tourist photo to make the statue.

“I did not use the Eisenstaedt photo to do this piece,” he said. Johnson said he did thorough
research on copyright infringement before he started on the piece several years ago. He said
that he was inspired by a photograph taken by Navy Lt. Victor Jorgensen and entered into
the National Archives.


Through the careful research of a member of the public art committee, the statement by Johnson was discovered to seem incorrect and misleading. The photograph of an event in Times Square on August 14, 1945 that is in the national archives was taken from a completely different angle and vantage point and, it does not show the people below their knees. The statues show all of the two figures — in exactly the same positions as the Eisenstaedt photograph. The committee member also found that there are civil actions being taken against Johnson by the Getty Foundation, which holds  the copyright to the Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph, V-J Day in Times Square. The rights to the photograph passed from Time-Life Inc. to the museum since the death of the original creator. The city attorney, Robert M. Fournier, was quoted in the Herald Tribune as saying that he would need to see a written settlement on the copyright matter before this could be considered.

City Attorney Bob Fournier spoke with Johnson’s attorney about the copyright issue.
If the city ends up accepting the sculpture as a donation, Fournier said he would want
written assurance that it could not be sued for infringement. “I don’t think we want to
accept the sculpture and find ourselves in the midst of a copyright infringement suit,” he said.

In a June 22,’09 email Fournier gave an update:

From: Robert Fournier <Robert.Fournier@sarasotagov.com>

Date: June 22, 2009 1:23:46 PM EDT

Subject: RE: Unconditional Surrender


No, to date, I have not received anything concerning the resolution of the copyright infringement disupute.


Robert M. Fournier

City Attorney

City of Sarasota

Phone: (941) 906-1199

Fax: (941) 906-1890




LIFE Executive restates copyright matter remains unresolved.




From: jeff_burak@timeinc.com

Date: June 23, 2009 11:51:37 AM EDT

Subject: RE: Another question Re: Alfred Eisenstaedt VJ Kiss image


The matter with Seward Johnson is still not resolved and our position remains the same.


If you are seriously considering the black granite concept I would be happy to license permissions for such a use.  Let me know if you interested and I’ll quote a license fee.




Jeff Burak

Director, Business Development – LIFE

.COM | Sales Development | Photo Archive | Syndication

212-522-2114 (o)

917-374-7715 (m)

AIM: JeffLBurak

On Apr 7, 2008, at 6:21 PM, jeff_burak@timeinc.com wrote:

The matter with Seward Johnson remains unresolved.  As you are aware, Time Inc. is the copyright holder of the Eisenstaedt Kiss Photograph.  The Statue is a derivative work and therefore our permission is required for any reproduction or use of the copyright.  I am unable to provide you with any indication as to our future actions.  Is your Board still considering acquiring the Statue?


Jeff Burak

Compare the images:

Photograph of one of Seward Johnson’s statues “Unconditional Surrender” on the Sarasota bay front.

Photograph taken by Navy Lt. Victor Jorgensen in public domain.

Famous “VJ Day” photograph by Alfred  Eisenstaedt copywrite owned by LIFE



angle is different and legs are cut off.
angle is different and legs are cut off.
LIFE declares statue is an unauthorised derivative of this photo.
LIFE declares statue is an unauthorised derivative of this photo.
Statue as it stands on Sarasota bay front.
Statue as it stands on Sarasota bay front.

Related Articles:

21st century kitsch issue involves copyright infringement: Scroll down on Wikipedia’s page about Kitch In 2005 a painted styrofoam statue by Seward Johnson that measures almost twenty-five feet was placed on temporary exhibit among a display of fine art at its bay front in Sarasota, Florida.

Danes want royalties for Michigan mermaid: politiken.dk/newsinenglish June 2009 A town in Michigan has its own “Little Mermaid”, undoubtedly inspired by the famous statue in Copenhagen. The sculptor’s heirs now want the Americans to pay up.”  This article is about another City like Sarasota facing legal issues with an unauthorized copy.

When pop culture tributes become copyright infringements: by Dan Bischoff/Star-Ledger Staff Saturday February 16, 2008, 9:00 PM This article shows a pattern of copyright infringements and the stock response by Johnson, who realizes that with his fortune he can afford to fight legal battles.

Port Surrenders in Battle on Kitch: By Robert L. Pincus
ART CRITIC March 11, 2007 The San Diego Union-Tribune. A Life spokesperson said: “Since Time Inc. holds the copyright to that photo and the artist did not obtain our permission to create the sculpture, unfortunately the sculpture is an infringement of our copyright.”


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