Credit: Philadelphia Parks & Rec

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Some 16 months after a last-minute copyright claim roiled their intended delivery, Philly’s Parks Department is finally releasing a set of hugely popular keepsakes from the old LOVE Park.

Carved from the stone that made up the skateboard-friendly basin of the park’s original design, the commemorative bricks are emblazoned with a likeness of the Robert Indiana sculpture that has become an iconic feature of the Center City plaza.

But it appears Indiana had never been consulted about the production of the keepsakes, of which only 250 were created — and the sale of which was intended to raise money for future skateparks and other Parks & Rec projects.

On Black Friday 2017, hundreds of people who stood in line in bitter cold at Christmas Village for a chance to buy one of the blocks were turned away empty-handed.

Turns out that the morning of the sale, the city had received a cease-and-desist letter from Indiana’s estate. “We incorrectly thought we had permission to use the LOVE likeness,” a Parks & Rec spokesperson told Billy Penn at the time. So instead of walking away with a cute block perfect for a holiday gift, people were asked to leave their email addresses to be contacted in the future.

That future has finally arrived. On Thursday, the city sent out a notification to the 248 people who’d waited that fateful day, letting them know the customized slabs were available at last.

Indiana’s estate finally relented and gave approval, Parks & Rec Director Kathryn Ott Lovell told KYW. On the whole process, she observed that it is “not always easier to ask forgiveness than permission” after all.

Those notified their mementos were finally available still have to pay for the prize — $51 a pop (with proceeds now earmarked specifically for LOVE Park improvements) — and then will be directed to an undisclosed location for pickup at a specific date in the future.

Much of the rest of the granite from the park’s old basin, meanwhile, was earmarked for a potential new skatepark on the Delaware River.

The confusion over the rights to the LOVE image, with its tilted O and letters arranged in quadrants, is no surprise — it’s a subject convoluted by a half-century’s worth of misunderstanding.

When Indiana first created the iconic image in the 1960s, U.S. copyright law was different. Whereas now an artist is automatically granted a copyright to their own work, prior to the Copyright Act of 1976, that wasn’t the case unless a notice was explicitly attached. Because Indiana did not attach one to his first LOVE artworks, the image fell into the public domain.

After the law change in the 1970s, Indiana reportedly worked hard to recapture his copyright, and eventually was successful. But because there still are so many unauthorized versions out there, many people assume the image is public.

That’s apparently what happened to Parks & Rec. No more of these souvenirs will be made available, the note to certificate holders indicated. However, it continued, additional LOVE Park granite keepsakes will go on sale in February — but with a new and different design

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...