Monday, January 25, 2021

Riley v. Rehberger Copyright Lawsuit Settled

Can a checkerboard design be protected by copyright law? You know the answer by now, it depends, and that “depends” (not the baby diaper kind) also includes the question of jurisdiction.

Painter Bridget Riley had previously sued artist Tobias Rehberger in a German court for copyright infringement. Yes, another artist vs. artist copyright dispute. I’m not well-versed in German law, but it seems this case reached the highest appellate court. The case settled, with Rehberger agreeing to pay Riley €10,000 (approx. $15,000) as a sign of good will. Riley will donate the money to a charitable organization she founded in 1968.

The more interesting part of the settlement, and one which I think should become part of any copyright settlement of this sort, is where the appropriating artist gives actual credit to the original artist (yes, I used the word “original”…gasp!). In this case, Rehberger has agreed to give Riley credit in the installation title, Watch Object after Movement in Squares by Bridget Riley and, according to Gossip-IP Girl, may only be shown at the commissioned site, the Berlin National Library, and can only be illustrated in an art historical context. In effect, copyright law here is being used to solidify Rehberger’s project as site-specific and qualm any intent by Rehberger to make replicas or editions. Very interesting…and smart.

Movement in Squares, 1961 Bridget Riley

Movement in Squares, 1961 Bridget Riley

Checkerboard designs of the most basic kind (checkers, chess), I would posit, would probably not obtain copyright protection in the U.S. if the design stuck to its usual black-white schematic. But it gets tricky from there. Remember the origami lawsuit against artist Sarah Morris, and which, I will remind readers out there, I thought was clearly fair use. What do you think?

Thanks to Gossip-IP Girl for the heads up on this one.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


No comments so far.
  • Leave a Reply
    Your gravatar
    Your Name


Clancco, Clancco: The Source for Art & Law,, and Art & Law are trademarks owned by Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento. The views expressed on this site are those of Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento and of the artists and writers who submit to They are not the views of any other organization, legal or otherwise. All content contained on or made available through is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed, nor is anything submitted to treated as confidential.

Website Terms of Use, Privacy, and Applicable Law.

Switch to our mobile site