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Unconditional Surrender gets final reprieve

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 7, 2010
  • Sarasota
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A split City Commission voted to give the owners of “Unconditional Surrender” one last chance to satisfy its conditions before it accepts a donation of the sculpture.

If those conditions aren’t addressed by the end of January, the statue reminiscent of the famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day in Times Square could be removed by May 31, which is when the current Season of Sculpture ends.

Mayor Dick Clapp, Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioner Fredd Atkins didn’t want to disrupt the Season of Sculpture by removing “Unconditional Surrender” before May.

City Manager Bob Bartolotta has extended the deadline to remove the sculpture six times in the past year, so an agreement can be reached. The latest deadline had been Jan. 10.

“When do we end this?” asked Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. “I’m tired of this.”

Sarasota resident and World War II veteran Jack Curran offered to buy the sculpture for $500,000 and donate it to the city, with the stipulation that it remain on the bayfront for 10 years. After that time the city would own it and would be able to place it wherever it pleased or even sell it.

Commissioners, the city manager and city attorney were most concerned about the possibility of a copyright lawsuit.

Commissioner Terry Turner believes it’s clear “Unconditional Surrender” infringes on the photograph’s copyright.

“I think we are kidding ourselves that another extension for a month will resolve things,” he said. “(The sculptor) cannot, from a business point of view, get a license.”

The sculptor, J. Seward Johnson, has resisted calls to get “Unconditional Surrender” licensed by Time-Life, which owns the famous photograph, because he says his sculpture is not a reproduction.

Atkins, though, pushed to find a solution.

“We have benefited more from this statue sitting on our bayfront than (Johnson) has,” he siad. “Every time I go by the bayfront, there’s a line of people waiting to get their picture by it.”

Turner, though, said the city was wrong to benefit from it.

“We are displaying stolen intellectual property,” he said.

The Sculpture Foundation, which actually owns “Unconditional Surrender,” offered to indemnify the city of any liability from a copyright suit, but the city is insisting that the indemnification come directly from Time-Life.

Brenda Terris, the executive director of Season of Sculpture who helped broker the donation, said indemnification from Time-Life is unnecessary.

“The likelihood of a suit is very small,” said Terris. “If someone is looking for a reason to tank this deal, they’ll use the indemnification, but it’s not a solid reason.”

Terris said at least five similar “Unconditional Surrenders” exist, and Time-Life has never sued over any of them, including one that sat directly across from the company’s New York headquarters.


The city has concerns other than copyright lawsuits about the “Unconditional Surrender”donation. City Manager Bob Bartolotta said he believes an agreement can be reached on all of them.

•Sculptor J. Seward Johnson wants to impose his own copyright restrictions on the sculpture.

•Confirmation has not been received that “Unconditional Surrender” is resistant to 130 mph winds.
•The city is not clear on a full maintenance schedule.


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