Top 13 Art Law Disputes of 2019

  1. For the Love of Love. Although Robert Indiana died in May of 2018, his estate is nowhere near settled. Some attorneys of course are probably more than happy to hear that. A December 2, 2019 accounting filed with the court stated that lawyers working on this dispute have been paid nearly $4 Million, including over $500,000 for the attorney representing the Indiana estate. According to the accounting, “The law firm of Hogan Lovells LLP, based in London and Washington, D.C. has been paid $1,562,040. The law firm of Venable LLP, based in Washington, D.C., has been paid $1,397,611. Pierce Atwood LLP of Portland has been paid $211,907, Preti Flaherty of Portland has been paid $96,303, LeBlanc & Young LLP of Portland has been paid $16,128, and attorney Kelly Mellenthin has been paid $645.” As one commentator put it, “Merry Christmas to the attorneys.”
  2. “Is San Francisco really the snowflake capital of the western hemisphere?” “Yes,” according to one commentator regarding the controversy surrounding San Francisco’s George Washington High School Mural. Apparently, the San Francisco Unified School District decided against destroying the controversial mural and have instead elected to cover it up, away from the innocent eyes of San Francisco school children.
  3. Aerosol sniffing. A current “hot” topic in the artlawsphere is the question of whether painted murals on architectural buildings, visible from public space, obtain copyright and moral rights protection in the United States. Concerning this very question, Mercedes-Benz filed a lawsuit against four artists seeking a declaratory judgment that Benz’s use of three murals in Benz’s Instagram ads did not violate the artists’ copyrights. The Michigan district court declined to dismiss Benz’s complaint, and has allowed the lawsuit to proceed against the mural artists. This one, if not settled, is a very interesting case to keep an eye on.
  4. Plant your Tulips right here! Jeff Koons’s “Tulips” were finally presented and unveiled to the French. The French, no strangers to protests, shutdowns and vandalism, weren’t too happy.
  5. For the People. Ai Weiwei won his legal battle against Volkswagen over an advertisement that used one of his installations as a backdrop without his permission. In July of this year, a court in Copenhagen awarded the artist a total of 1.75 million Danish krone (approx. $260,000) in compensation for what it described as “an improper exploitation of the artwork for marketing purposes.”
  6. Aunt Noland’s Cabin. Like the Energizer bunny, here’s another lawsuit that keeps going and going: Cady Noland’s claims against collectors and galleries for what she calls, unauthorized copying, or what the defendants call, maintenance and restoration. The case was dismissed earlier this year because apparently Germany is not part of the United States (who knew?!). But, when the going gets tough, the tough…
  7. Warhol’s Prince. A New York district judge ruled that Andy Warhol’s artwork using photo image of the late-pop icon, Prince, did not violate the photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s copyright. This ruling sided with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
  8. Like the NYC subway. Art collector Steven Tananbaum, the chief investment officer of GoldenTree Asset Management LP — or, as Gagosian called him, the “imperious” multimillionaire — claims [Gagosian] lures unwary investors with promises of custom-made art, then keeps them waiting, and waiting, all the while using their payments to keep the scheme going. In his initial complaint he called it a “garden-variety, interest-free fraudulent financial routine that hearkens the name Ponzi.”
  9. Resale Royalties? What the heck has happened with the pending federal bill concerning artists’ resale royalty rights, otherwise known as The American Royalties Too Act of 2018? Remember that resale royalties provide visual artists with the opportunity to earn a percentage of the proceeds when their works are resold. Given the kangaroo-court currently in session in Congress, it’s no wonder artists’ rights are not exactly at the top of the list.
  10. The Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act. CASE is legislation that proposes the creation of a voluntary small claims board within the U.S. Copyright Office — providing copyright owners with an alternative to the expensive and complicated process of bringing copyright claims to federal court. This new board, called the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), would allow recovery in each case of up to $30,000 in damages total, with a cap of $15,000 in statutory damages per work infringed.
  11. One clothes, one folds. The Marciano Art Foundation chose to shut-down rather than welcome the unionizing of young Marxists, while LA MOCA chose to fall within 2019 “woke”-guidelines and allow its staff to unionize.
  12. Whitney’s Kander. Warren B. Kanders, the vice chair of the Whitney Museum in New York, resigned from his position after more than half a year of protests against his ownership of Safariland, a company that produces tear-gas canisters and other supplies used by the military and law enforcement. Any bets on which museum board members will be forced to resign in 2020?
  13. Pretty in pink.Protesters stormed the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City in protest of a painting depicting Mexican revolutionary and national hero, Emiliano Zapata, dressed in pink garb and, as the artist explains, “feminized” in order to critique Zapata’s “glorified masculinity” (apparently some artists think art is about critique). Zapata’s grandson, Jorge Zapata Gonzalez, wants it removed, and threatened a lawsuit if the painting remained on exhibit. I’m not that well-versed in Mexican law, but perhaps a reader can educate me on what claims, if any, Zapata Gonzalez might have. Viva la revolucion!

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