Art law News USA

Judge says Sid Vicious street art breaks copyright

Mr Brainwash works are "not transformative"

Dennis Morris's photograph of Sid Vicious, left, and Mr Brainwash's mural based on the image. Photo: Left, © Dennis Morris. All rights reserved. Right, www.unurth.com

The Los Angeles-based street artist Thierry Guetta, better known as Mr Brainwash, has lost a copyright case involving a 1977 photograph of the punk rock musician Sid Vicious shot by the British photographer Dennis Morris. Guetta had claimed that the seven works he created using Morris’s black and white photograph, including one mural and one collage made of broken vinyl records, were sufficiently altered to be protected by the fair use defence, which allows for the use of copyrighted material for commentary, criticism and parody.

The federal judge rejected Guetta’s claim, saying that “most of [the] defendant’s works add certain new elements, but the overall effect of each is not transformative”. The judge also opposed the argument that “appropriation art per se” should be protected by fair use. As we went to press, the terms of the settlement, including unspecified damages, were being determined.

In 2011 Guetta lost a copyright case to Glen Friedman over his use of Friedman’s photograph of the rap group Run DMC, while last year the estate of the photographer Jim Marshall sued Guetta and Google for the unauthorised use of Marshall’s photographs of musicians. This case has not yet been decided and is due to go to trial in July.

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Comments

8 May 13
15:19 CET

LINCOLN PHILLIPS, DENVER

Hello to Toronto, while I agree that one should 'take a nod' from a fellow artist. However, if said fellow artist stands to profit handsomely from such heavy leaning on an original, the latter's motivation is other then purely 'artistic homage' eh?

7 May 13
16:29 CET

MICHELLE, TORONTO, ONTARIO

It looks like we have come to the age of not accepting the compliment of someone being inspired by our art and creating another form of it. Society is too focused on "This is Mine" and has lost sight of the greater sense of why we create art in the first place. Does ownership really meant that much to everyone? What about the bigger picture - the pure enjoyment of creation. How do you think Leonardo would feel about the abuse of his favourite portrait? Or Michelangelo about the twists numerous people have taken on his Creation of Adam? Relax people and enjoy sharing your art and creativity with the world. As far as I am concerned the mural was inspired by the photo - the artist is not claiming any rights to the original photo - just the inspiration it gave him.

6 May 13
18:47 CET

LARRY KETCHUM, RALEIGH

Mr. Guetta's art would have gotten zero recognition for his effort if he had not ridden on Dennis Morris' back and copied his work. There is nothing transformative in that mural.

1 May 13
15:8 CET

EAT MY ART, MANCHESTER

Bit of a slap in the face for lots of portrait artists. Food for thought: how to get around it?

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