‘Salt Bae’ turns ‘copyright infringement bae’

Written by Briffa | April 30, 2021


Turkish Chef Nusret Gokce who popularly became known as ‘Salt Bae’ owing to his signature salt sprinkle pose, is being sued by a US-based artist for a whopping $5 million for alleged art copyright infringement.

As the story goes, two artists were hired and paid by Salt Bae, to create a mural of Salt Bae’s signature salt-sprinkling pose, which was to be used in Salt Bae’s Miami restaurant.

It is alleged that, unbeknown to the artists, unauthorised copies of the mural were made and used in other locations of Salt Bae’s restaurants. The artwork was also put on menus and takeaway bags (to name a few).

You’re probably wondering, if he paid for the artwork, he owns it and is free to use it as he pleases. This story is of particular interest to me as it is a common misconception that if you hire someone or commission creative work, then you will own the copyright in the end product and can do with it what you like. Its unfortunate for Salt Bae and others that believed this, as this is not how copyright law works.

Copyright law

Under UK copyright law, provided work is not copied and it is the intellectual creation of the author, copyright will arise automatically on creation of the work. It is important to note that, copyright will be owned by the creator of the copyright work. The only exception to this rule in instances where the creator is an employee and the copyright work was created in the course of their employment, then the copyright work will belong and be owned by the employer.

This means that if you hire freelancers to create, creative works (e.g., product artwork, designs, photography, paintings etc.), the freelancer will own the copyright in the end product, irrespective of whether you have paid for the service. As the copyright owner, they have the exclusive right prevent people from carrying out the various acts listed below:

  • copying the copyright work
  • distributing copies of the copyright work (whether free of charge or for sale)
  • renting or lending copies of the copyright work
  • performing, showing or playing the copyright work in public
  • making an adaptation of the copyright work
  • putting the copyright work the internet.

Therefore, if a person carries out any of the restricted acts, without the consent of the copyright owner, there is a risk that the owner of the copyright could bring a copyright infringement claim.

Generally, when a third party creates creative work for a client, the client will be granted a limited licence to do certain acts that would otherwise be copyright infringement or use the copyright act for a specific purpose. Any use outside this permitted use, could give rise to a copyright infringement claim.

Notwithstanding the above, it is possible for copyright ownership to be transferred by way of an assignment. An assignment of copyright must be in writing, in order to be valid and binding. Therefore, a verbal agreement transferring ownership of copyright will not suffice. The benefit of obtaining ownership is that you legally own the copyright and can carry out any of the restricted acts listed above.

Briffa comments

The above case illustrates, the importance of ensuring that when hiring third parties to create creative works, you ensure you have secured ownership of all the unregistered rights (namely copyright). There are however instances whereby a third party does not want to transfer copyright ownership. In the instance where ownership is retained by the third party, it is important that you negotiate a licensing arrangement that allows you to use the end product as you intend.

Whether you opt for an assignment of copyright or a licensing arrangement it is imperative that you have a written agreement in place. As can be seen by the above case failure to acquire ownership or operate within the parameters of the licence you have been granted may put you at risk of a copyright infringement claim.

If you require some advice regarding copyright law, please do get in touch. At Briffa we are happy to assist with any queries you may have.

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