Who knew a farting unicorn would end up at the centre of a finger-pointing copyright storm in a teacup involving Elon Musk?
The Tesla CEO has been accused of using Colorado potter Tom Edwards' design without permission, a situation which has come to light in a fired up Twitter exchange.
The artist's daughter, Lisa Prank, tweeted on Wednesday claiming Musk had used her father's design, an image of a unicorn farting rainbow gas into a tube to power an electric car, apparently without the artist's permission.
— Lisa Prank (@lisaprank) June 26, 2018
Musk responded directly to Prank, attributing the design to Twitter user Nik Jovanovic, who currently has the unicorn design as both his profile picture and header image. The Tesla CEO said the design "was chosen randomly by [Tesla's] software team as a joke (they didn't tell me in advance)."
To finish, Musk said, "We can change it to something else if your Dad wants."
I think Nik @jovanik21 did an illustration with Tesla sketch pad Easter egg similar to mug pic that I posted. Was chosen randomly by software team as a joke (they didn’t tell me in advance) as an example of the hidden feature. We can change it to something else if your Dad wants.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 27, 2018
Prank responded to Musk, accusing Tesla of "using [Edwards'] creative property for a year without credit or compensation," to which Musk replied, saying he'd asked his team to use a different image going forward.
"Was actually someone else's drawing of a unicorn on hidden Tesla sketch pad app & we gained no financial benefit," Musk tweeted. "He can sue for money if he wants, but that's kinda lame. If anything, this attention increased his mug sales."
The back-and-forth is quite something:
Was actually someone else’s drawing of a unicorn on hidden Tesla sketch pad app & we gained no financial benefit. Have asked my team to use a diff example going forward. He can sue for money if he wants, but that’s kinda lame. If anything, this attention increased his mug sales.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 27, 2018
it’s a copyright issue of stolen intellectual property—I’m not sure exactly what he wants! Maybe whatever wage you normally pay graphic designers to come up with content for you? The person to discuss this with is his lawyer, who sent you a letter you didn’t respond to
— Lisa Prank (@lisaprank) June 27, 2018
Wait, so where did this whole farting unicorn come from, exactly?
According to Denver publisher Westword, Edwards, a potter who lives in Evergreen, Colorado, created the image in 2010. It was used for ceramic mugs Edwards sells through his website Wallyware for $28 a piece.
"Electric cars are good for the environment because electricity comes from magic," it reads on the back of the mug.
In February 2017, Musk tweeted an image of Edwards' mug, with the caption, "Rainbows, unicorns and electric cars."
Rainbows, unicorns and electric cars pic.twitter.com/oGHkVUmpdi
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 4, 2017
It's clearly Edwards' mug. Musk wrote in an additional tweet under the image that it was "maybe my favorite mug ever." Edwards told Westword the tweet was followed by a small bump in sales — just 100 mugs, but not bad.
Musk shared two drawings on Twitter to announce the feature, the other one being a slightly displeased Mona Lisa — only the Leonardo Da Vinci riff was signed, not the unicorn.
Luckily, Edwards had a friend who bought a Tesla car, according to Westword, and was told his design was automatically sitting within the hidden sketch pad feature. You can spy the unicorn in this Tesla Model 3 demo video from auto publisher The Drive:
Westword also reported that one of Edwards' friends pointed out to him that Tesla had included the unicorn in the design for a company Christmas card, something Prank reiterated to Musk.
Edwards confirmed to the publisher that he is seeking legal advice on the matter.
The Westword article was then picked up by the Guardian, who confirmed that Edwards' lawyer, Tim Atkinson, had sent a letter to Tesla’s general counsel on May 23, 2018.
Rather than being a cease and desist letter, Guardian reports it was an "invitation for all parties to continue to benefit from the whimsical, and amazingly spot on piece of imagery my client created in 2010, which now appropriately finds a home in the operating system of the magical vehicles your company produces."
But Musk denied some of the Guardian's details when journalist Kate Bevan shared the story on Twitter.
"I offered to pay the guy who drew it twice already for something I don't even want," he tweeted.
The Guardian article is bs in every possible way & I offered to pay the guy who drew it twice already for something I don’t even want. This isn’t part of “Tesla branding”. Brand, ugh. I hate very word.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2018
But Edwards' daughter, Prank, then tweeted that this detail — that he'd offered to pay Edwards, twice — wasn't accurate.
Even J.K. Rowling weighed in on the story, calling it "the spinoff you never knew you wanted." Can you imagine, Harry Potter and the Farting Unicorn?
The spinoff you never knew you wanted. pic.twitter.com/NaE0n0c6C2
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 27, 2018
Mashable has reached out to Tesla for comment.
Buckle up, guys. Meanwhile, if you need a new mug...