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More Gee's Bend News

Monday, June 18, 2007

Friday's Mobile Press-Register has another story about the Gee's Bend quilters. Last week I mentioned Annie Mae Young's lawsuit against Tinwood and others (post here), and now it seems that some of the other quilters are coming around/thinking about filing their own lawsuits in addition to hers.

This is how the article begins:

For the last month, the people responsible for bringing the Gee's Bend quilts to the attention of the nation have been circulating in the isolated community, gathering signatures on documents that some experts said appear to take copyright control away from each quilter.

Those documents appeared just days after one of the rural quilters filed suit against the Arnett family, who promoted the handmade art via a whirlwind of museum openings, books and derivative products.

The Arnetts have insisted through their lawyers that these latest documents do not take control of anyone's copyrights. Their contention is that they have had oral agreements with the quilters for years now.

Other bits include:

The second suit, filed Monday, alleges that Matt Arnett visited Pettway -- who cannot read -- and offered her a check for $2,000, but only if she would sign an "Alabama Bill of Sale of Personal Property" that her lawyers say may have conveyed to the Arnetts the copyrights to any quilts she sold to them.

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The Press-Register has learned that the Arnetts have obtained signatures from 20 quilters on such documents in the last month, all apparently since the first lawsuit was filed April 3.

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No written agreements had ever been drawn up between the quilters and the Arnetts, according to lawyers on both sides, until the Bill of Sale documents tendered in recent weeks. One obtained by the Press-Register is dated May 30.

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"(Matt Arnett) didn't want my kids knowing when he came by. He said, 'If you are going to let your kids get involved, you count me out,'" Young said, sitting in the shade beneath the tall pines outside her small brick house.


The entire article from Friday can be found here. Not all of the quilters agree with the lawsuits, but it sure is getting more and more...interesting.

I've been to Gee's Bend - several years ago - and I can tell you that the building that the quilters had been working out of was rough. Rough. After all this time, the article says they are in that same building - a building that one of the sons says stinks (except he uses more descriptive terms) and the P-R says that the building's air conditioning doesn't keep up during the summer.

For all the money that's undoubtedly been made off these women...ohmygoodness...the thought that these women may have been taken advantage of with oral contracts...

And as a business owner, can you imagine doing business on behalf of people, totaling no telling how much money, on the basis of an oral agreement, even if they are not literate? Wouldn't you find some way to carry them to a lawyer (your lawyer, whoever's lawyer) and make it crystal clear in front of 'x' number of people that they understand exactly what you're proposing and have everybody sign that? Wouldn't you do that just for your own piece of mind if nothing else??

I still really-really hope this is a big misunderstanding but the new article doesn't make me feel any better. Argh!

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