Today's New York Times has an obituary of Richard Eckerlsey, a British graphic designer who put the University of Nebraska Press on the map. Here is an excerpt:
"Mr. Eckersley had been the senior designer at the University of Nebraska Press since 1981, producing hundreds of covers, jackets, interior layouts and promotional posters for scholarly — often abstract — books on modernist and postmodernist theory and criticism, including Louis Aragon's 'Treatise on Style.' Most of Mr. Eckersley's book designs, the design historian Roy R. Behrens said in a 2002 Print Magazine article, 'are characterized by typographic subtlety and restraint.'
A stickler for the finer points of spacing and arranging type, Mr. Eckersley turned out work that was resolutely functional. Yet through consistently meticulous compositions and a preference for bright, flat color, matte paper and minimal ornament, he created a visual identity for the University of Nebraska Press, which often received honors in book shows and design competitions. In 1989, however, Mr. Eckersley made a radical departure from his signature restraint, shaking up the field with his design for Avital Ronell's 'Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech,' an unorthodox study of Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger and the philosophy of deconstruction. This was the first book Mr. Eckersley designed on the computer, using new page-making software programs to interpret the author's complex postmodern ideas typographically.
Although the stark black-and-white cover of this long vertical book was rather quiet, he radically dislodged the interior text from conventional settings, and the book's layout sometimes upstages the text by deliberately impeding the act of reading, which is just what Ms. Ronell wanted. Throughout the book there are unexplained gaps and dislocations between sentences and paragraphs, forcing the reader to work at reading. On one page is a mirror image of the page that faces it. On another, snakelike trails of space that come from careless word spacing (called rivers) are intentionally employed. Some words are blurred to the point of being indecipherable; one line runs into another because of the exaggerated use of negative line-spacing.
Though some adventurous graphic designers were experimenting at the time with idiosyncratic computer type design, this was first attempt to apply a 'deconstructivist style' to a serious book.
Many of the same methods can be found earlier and later in Mr. Eckersley's layouts for Derrida's 'Glas' (1986) and its companion volume 'Glassary' (1986); and, to some extent, they are revisited in his designs for Warren F. Motte Jr.'s 'Questioning Edmond Jabès' (1990), Derrida's 'Cinders' (1991), Blaise Cendrars's 'Modernities and Other Writings' (1992), Eyal Amiran and John Unsworth's 'Essays in Postmodern Culture' (1994), and L. C. Breunig's 'Cubist Poets in Paris' (1995).
Among his design games, Mr. Eckersley regularly toyed with routine copyright pages by transforming them into typographic pictures suggesting the contents of the books."
This is art at very high level, but generally unprotectible under a Copyright Act that will protect shlocky fabric designs, automobile advertisements, and compilations of no note. There may be protection for dust cover art, just like there is for greeting cards and magazine covers, see Roulo v. Russ Berrie & Co., Inc., 886 F.2d 931 (7th Cir. 1989); Allied Mktg. Group, Inc. v. CDL Mktg. Inc., 878 F. 2d 806 (5th Cir. 1989) (possible copyright in format of postcard); Reader's Digest Ass'n v. Conservative Digest, 821 F.2d 800 (D.C. Cir. 1987); Roth Greeting Cards v. United Card. Co., 429 F.2d 1106 (9th Cir. 1970). But see Presby Constr. Co. v. Clavet, 61 SPQ2d 1184 (D.N.H. 2001), but the real problems arise with claims in typeface design, which are unprotectible. See Eltra Corp. v. Ringer, 579 F.2d 294 (4th Cir. 1978); 37 C.F.R. 202.1(e). Here, Mr. Eckersley was a master. Efforts by typeface designers to obtain protection (either through copyright or separate design protection) in the mid-1970s came to naught due to the opposition of book publishers and authors, concerned about injunctions being issued against books where the printer (unbeknownst to them) had used an infringing typeface.
Typeface designers were represented before Congress by the legendary Alan Latman, the greatest copyright lawyer of his day and a man loved and revered by all who knew him. There is copious information about this effort in the 1975 House Hearings on the revision effort, Copyright Law Revision: Hearings on H.R. 2223 before the Subcomm. on Courts, Civil Liberties, and the Administration of Justice of the House Judiciary Comm., 94th Cong., 1st Sess. (1975). Alan's willingness to take on a cause unpopular with his firm's then present and potential future clients was courageous and of a kind one rarely sees these days.
One can appreciate the concerns of authors and book publishers, but still question why their concerns are so markedly different than anyone else's. Typeface designers are not seeking after all, exclusive rights over the letter "A" (or any other letters), but rather for the calligraphic or other graphic expression of an "A." In any event, Mr. Eckersley's art lives on even though he does not.