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Cover of Bill Bryson’s ‘Jolly Fisherman’ Infringes Copyright

Written by Fozia Cheychi on 14 January 2016

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Earlier this week it was reported in Lincolnshire Echo that owners of the copyright to the image- Skegness Town Council had not been approached by Transworld Publishers before the image of the Jolly Fisherman was used for the cover of ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’ Usually Skegness Town Council charges a fee of £10 to those that seek permission for the use of the image in question. The fee covers paperwork fees for granting permission to requests for the use of the image to promote Skegness.

Steve Larner the town clerk who is responsible for granting permission for the usage of the image told Lincolnshire Echo that he “wouldn’t have given permission in this case as [the cover] doesn’t mention Skegness”, he further added “if the image is used to promote Skegness, then generally speaking it is for the benefit of the town, and if it brings people in then it’s positive”. Bryson does mention Skegness in the book, but does so in a less than complimentary manner he refers to arriving in Skegness on the “most miserably rainy weekend of the summer”. And writes "As I could see, there was nothing wrong with Skegness that moving it 800 miles south couldn’t fix” and adds “people everywhere were standing in doorways or under awnings. A few were eating fish and chips, but most just stood staring at the bleak wet world. It wasn’t in the least bit bracing.” Bryson further wrote “I walked up and down the High Street, Lumley Road. At one end was an old-fashioned store called Allison’s, where you could buy the kinds of clothes your grandparents used to wear, and beyond it was a selection of charity shops selling the actual clothes your grandparents used to wear.”

A spokesperson for Transworld Publishers said that “The use of the Jolly Fisherman as part of the cover illustration of Bill Bryson’s book was inspired as a tribute to the iconic nature of the image, which Bill writes about with much affection is in his chapter about Skegness. Given how extensively the image has been reproduced in the past, it was presumed that the image was in the public domain, but now it has been established that the image is in copyright until 2018, we are in contact with Skegness Town Hall to confirm permission.” Bryson however described the Skegness’ Jolly Fisherman in The Road to Little Dribbling as “a splendid illustration”. He commented that “The man is dressed for foul weather and is quite alone, yet that one image and four simple words have made Skegness famous- indeed, have persuaded hundreds of thousands of people to go there. Hassall was paid 12 guineas for the work. The original hangs in Skegness Town Hall. I would love to have seen it, but the building was closed as it was the weekend.”

Transworld publishers have now agreed to credit the image in future. Larner commented that he has had a conversation with the publishers to seek resolution, he said “I think it was a genuine mistake that they didn’t apply for permission, as the image has been around for some time, they were under the impression it was not copyrighted. They are now making a retrospective application and based on the information they have given they are now willing to ensure the town council are acknowledged in both hard backs and paper backs. Once we have processed this we will have resolved the issue.”

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