In what could be charitably described as a sign that Street Art has entered a new phase of cultural acceptance and appropriation, some creators of art in the public sphere are attempting to lay legal claim to the profit-making that they didn’t necessarily sign on to. In just the last few months a handful of artists from New York, Los Angeles, and Buenos Aires have discovered their murals have been used in fashion, music, and cinema to great effect, but sadly, they say, without their knowledge or permission.
Of course this sort of inspiration/appropriation has been going on for years – if you want to meet models on the sidewalk just move to Bushwick, Brooklyn and you’ll probably accidentally end up in a fashion spread yourself. Here is where countless fashion shoots, video shoots, movie scenes all happen continuously and money is exchanging hands to make it happen – just not for the artists. Usually they are essentially unpaid, uncredited backdrop artists for the edgy “street” fantasies of stylists.
The courts ultimately will have to decide the relevance of these recent claims but the topic does raise fascinating questions about public space, intellectual property, copyright, and the reasonable expectations of the artists once their work is set free into the streets. In these cases the artists had permission and encouragement to create their works and perhaps thousands of images of the works are in existence since the work is made public. The concern here is raised once those images are privatized or pass into the purely commercial world of selling product.
More interesting will be to see if these lawsuits will extend in the future to include the unsanctioned, un-permissioned, acts of vandalism that appear on private property as well. Will artists seek protection from a legal system they actively transgressed? Can the pieces of art placed illegally be re-claimed by the artist when the work is found printed on a lycra bodysuit or embossed on a wallet? If so, how will the artist claim ownership?
Here are just three recent examples of lawsuits reportedly being filed by artists laying claim to the benefits of their work.
Street Artist and fine artist Maya Hiyuk is reportedly suing pop star Sara Bareilles, Sony, and Coach for using her Houston Street wall in New York as a back drop to sell their products.
Hayuk on the left, the wall used in a campaign on the right (Screenshot from New York Post, Page Six)
A detail from the Houston street wall by Maya Hayuk (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Revok, Reyes and Steel
MSK crew members Revok, Reyes and Steel have filed a claim saying that designer Roberto Cavalli was a little more than just inspired by their collaborative mural in San Francisco when designing a line for his “Graffiti Girls” collection sold through the website. A quick Google search shows that the line extends to clothing, accessories, sneakers, even a phone case and is sold at stores like Nordstom, Neiman Marcus, and online giant Amazon.
Worse, says the claim, “Sometimes, Cavalli added what appears to be a signature, creating the false impression that Roberto Cavalli himself was the artist.”
An view of the original wall by Revok, Reyes and Steel (image © MSK) and a screenshot of one of the dresses for sale at Cavalli’s website.
See more about this at Mass Appeal.
Jaz, Ever, and Other (aka Troy Lovegates)
Street Artists and muralists Jaz, Ever, and Other are suing for copyright infringement because the newest Terry Gilliam (Twelve Monkeys, Brazil) film The Zero Theorem allegedly featured a mural that looks startlingly similar to one they painted together in Buenos Aires about four years ago.
You can actually still see a number of stills from it it on The Zero Theorem Facebook page right now if you like.
See a pdf of the lawsuit here.
From Other’s Flickr page, the original mural in progress (image © Other)
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