ONLY ON 3: Artist, environmental group battle over donated painting
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- A Wilmington environmental group is accused of an art heist. The artist claims the non-profit Save the Cape is using his painting in a way it was not intended, and now the group won't give it back.

Save the Cape is all about protecting the Cape Fear River. Now, artist William Puckett is trying to protect his intellectual property from the environmental group.

"It's so sad to me that something that should be so good has put such a bad taste in my mouth," Puckett said.

Last year, Puckett created a circular oil painting for the non-profit group to auction off, but the sale never happened.

"I'd like to have it back so I can do something else with it," Puckett said. "I didn't paint the painting to be hung in one of the member's houses. It was meant to raise money for the organization."

His wife Lauren also created a logo for Save the Cape. She says the organization paid for the rights to that image, but now the group is also using the logo with the painting on its website and Facebook page.

"I said, 'Listen: you can return the painting and cease the use of our image. That's fine. No problem, but if you want to keep it, why don't I sell you the painting at a discounted rate and all the rights to it, and you can have it?'" Lauren said.

The Pucketts say they asked for $500. They were offered less than that.

"We were foolish enough. We don't put things in contracts," Lauren said. "Well, I don't feel actually foolish. I feel like we trusted an organization, and I totally got taken advantage of."

Now, the Pucketts are done negotiating. They just want their painting back.

"Bbecause of the way we've been treated, because of the way the situation has been handled, I personally would like to distance myself from them," William said.

We contacted Mike Rice with Save the Cape to get his side. He told us no comment.

We spoke with an attorney, who told us this situation may well raise substantial copyright law violation and breach of contract issues.

We'll keep you updated.

Disclaimer: Comments posted on this, or any story are opinions of those people posting them, and not the views or opinions of WWAY NewsChannel 3, its management or employees. You can view our comment policy here.

Hello everyone,

First and foremost I wanted to thank everyone who has stood up for us on this message board. I didn't realize there was any feedback or I would have commented sooner. We have full documentation, albeit not an official contract, along with witnesses who stand behind us, so I believe this matter will be resolved in the near future. In all honestly we have much more pressing projects on our plate that are currently occupying our time.

I did want to clear a few things up since I've noticed Save the Cape's representative continues to misrepresent the facts. Will donated the painting to be auctioned off and we agreed that we would split the profits. However, we in no way ever specified an amount we expected to receive from the auction. An auction is an auction - there's no way to assume that an item will even sell. The $500 number is what Will offered to sell both the painting and the full rights to the image of the painting since no auction, or plans for an auction, had been made in over one calendar year since Will created the work. Historically Will has always maintained the rights to his imagery with every sale, so this would have been the first time he sold said rights. In fact, Mike Rice asked Will what the value of the painting would be during their discussion on Saturday, March 21, 2012 and Will told him that a small commission of that size would fetch $800. So he essentially offered to sell it for 62.5% of the value along with the full rights to the image. During this conversation Will also told Mike Rice that he would be much more willing to work with the organization if they would issue an apology to us. We then received an email on Monday morning that said specifically "We'll presume that a fundraiser was held and that someone purchased the painting for $500, the amount you specified as the value in an e-mail. So we'll pay you half, as you expected. $250." At this point I responded that I was insulted by the offer. First and foremost we didn't want a phony auction. We always wished to help the organization and not hurt them. Will and I felt we made a very fair offer to Save the Cape and felt again that they were trying to get as much as possible for as little as possible. We feel win or lose, that it is very important to stand up for artists who are continually mistreated by those who are more legally savvy. The real issue in this matter is how you treat people.

I think it's best for me to stop there as I do not wish to continue this dispute on the message board. I will say one last thing in response to Save the Cape's facebook post that we have an "obvious need for money". This was never about money and we are not in obvious need. We do however believe that treating others fairly in this world and maintaining your integrity in all situations is just common sense.

Lauren Puckett

It is a disgrace for “Save the Cape’ to have an issue with a young and aspiring artist (William Puckett) and his wife (Lauren) over a painting, especially when Lauren’s step-father, a Southport resident, has been so supportive of their efforts. Lauren Puckett’s mother is married to an experienced and very knowledgeable advocate to save Southeast NC, who even traveled to Raleigh with “Save the Cape” leadership.
From the WWAY response and other comments, it is very evident that this issue is seriously impacting the cause, and the organization’s leadership is way off-base on more than this issue.
Toby and Mike, you need to return the painting immediately and offer an apology. If not, the organization should appoint less controversial leaders.
Thank you, J.T. Ryan; Southport, NC

Save the Cape chose not to comment on this story as we saw it as a private dispute that we felt could be resolved amicably between the parties.

However, this reporting was irresponsible in its tone and tenor. To call this an "Art Heist" strains credulity to the breaking point and one can only assume that WWAY was looking to sensationalize a story that has no legs, no credibility and borders on defamation.

The painting at issue was donated to Save the Cape with the understanding that it would be auctioned off at some point in the future. There had been no specific time window nor had any agreement been reached on how to split the proceeds. The Pucketts hoped the painting would bring in between $400 and $500 - but there was to be no minimum reserve. We have all understandings and agreements in writing from the Pucketts.

The painting was used as the basis of our logo for stationary, business cards and potential merchandising. A secondary, "simplified" two color logo was also presented for our approval once we signed off on the four color image.

Save the Cape paid the amount requested by the Pucketts for the
preparation of the logo which incorporated the painting

We have email communications to back up our position. We would appreciate an apology from WWAY for their inflammatory language when reporting this "story".

Is Mr. Puckett's claim that the painting is hanging in the house of one of your members? If so, why? Also, if the claim is true, then the painting is clearly not being used as it was intended regardless of when the auction is supposed to take place.

Hi, Toby-

Thank you for taking the time to comment at this time, however, I would have loved a comment when I tried to get your side of the story.

As for the language, the Pucketts are accusing you of not returning their painting. You chose not to refute their story. Providing emails you say you have, could have done that.

We held off on this story for three days, because the Pucketts gave you until Tuesday to come to an agreemeent amicably. That deadline passed, which is why we finally did the story. We told your organization that this story was going to air, with or without your side. We would have gladly sat down with you and provided you ample opportunity to say what you wanted. If we do an update, we hope you will be more open to speaking out in the future.

Regards,
Marcy Cuevas
WWAY

Save the Cape offered to return the physical painting against receipt of a bill of sale of the rights to the image embodied in the logo design for which Save the Cape had previously paid the Pucketts. Alternatively, Save the Cape offered to pay the Pucketts $250 against receipt of a bill of sale for all rights to the painting and the image. This is the amount they would have optimistically hoped to receive had the donated painting been auctioned off. Those offers were extended on the Saturday and Monday before the story ran.

We would be happy to provide documentation to you.

I have done contract work for several charities,they are among the worst for not paying their bills or claiming entitlement to your services for free.

Not only does Mike Rice and his MBA,PHD friends have a low opinion of construction workers and truck drivers(see "Save the Cape" website), they don't seem to harbor much respect for artists either.