The New York Times had an article on Febraury 19th, about artist Daniel Johnston of Waller, Texas (pop. 2,032). Marty Schwimmer's Trademark Blog has a great copy of one of his works. The Times article is called "Man-Child in the Promised Land." Johnston's works are included in two upcoming New York City shows: (March 2) Whitney Musuem Biennial and a March 16 exhibition at the Clementine Gallery in Chelsea. Mr. Johnston is also a composer, whose music has been covered by Beck, Tom Waits, and Wilco. In 2005, a documentary was released, entitled The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Mr. Johnston, 45, has hit the big time.
The title of the documentary refers to the demons that have haunted Mr. Johnston for a long time. He has been diagnosed, according to the NY Times, as having a serious bipolar disorder, and has serious health issues too. He has spent periods in mental hospitals and lives with his elderly parents.
Now that his works are generating serious money, the inevitable battles have occurred, as detailed in the newspaper article. For copyright purposes, an important issue is competency: is Mr. Johnston competent to transfer rights in his works? He has not been deemed incompetent and may not be. He has no legal guardian. He is 45, so being a minor isn't an issue as it was for Franky Lymon and the Teenagers. These issues are state law issues: while Section 204 (the Copyright Act's version, in part, of the Statute of Frauds) sets forth the requirements for a valid transfer, it says nothing about the competency of the person who signs it, nor about issues of duress (another issue in the Frankie Lymon case), lack of consideration, and the like, all of which must, therefore, be filled in by state law. And then there will be choice of law issues too, depending on where the assignments are signed and whether they have forum designation provisions.
I doubt we have heard the last from Mr. Johnston, either in the art world or the copyright world.