Case Study: Street Art Copyright Infringement

We were approached by a group of street artists who had created a series of spectacular original murals in a disused warehouse space in London’s Soho. They had been invited by a charity to create the murals at a ‘paint jam’ event, during which they decorated large sections of the space’s walls with unique artwork.

A few months after this event, they were surprised to find that their artwork was being used in a high profile marketing campaign, promoting the new clothing range of a famous footballer in collaboration with a well known online fashion retailer.

This marketing campaign meant that the artists’ work was being commercially exploited online (including on social media and paid-for advertisements) but also on large billboards across the UK, without the artists’ consent and without them receiving any payment.

Of course, as professional artists who rely on the exploitation of their work to make a living, this unauthorised usage was unacceptable, and they came to us for legal advice and representation.

How we resolved the street art copyright infringement and added value

The first step was to arrange meetings and calls with the artists, to gather information but also to discuss what everyone’s desired outcome was. When acting for artists, it is always important to understand the client’s priority, whether this is to prevent any unauthorised use of certain images to preserve the artist’s exclusive reputation or to negotiate the best possible financial compensation for the commercial use.

As always with street art copyright disputes, it was also important to check that the artists still owned the rights to their art, and had not signed any documents which would assign or licence such rights to the charity organising the paint jam.

Once we were confident that everyone was on the same page, and that there was no issue of rights ownership, we explained the legal position to ensure that each of our clients understood and agreed with our suggested approach.

We then engaged with the fashion retailer, by writing a comprehensive Letter Before Action setting out our legal position in full and demanding the immediate removal of all images featuring our clients’ works, and full compensation for each of the artists whose work was being used.

Predictably, their first reaction was to deny any wrongdoing and to get their lawyers involved to try to avoid paying our clients anything.

Of course, we persevered and engaged in further correspondence and settlement discussions, and eventually agreed on a generous compensation package which allowed all the artists we represented to receive a fair reward for the commercial use of their work in this street art copyright infringement case.

Why you need Briffa

As a law firm specialising in the arts and creative industries, we offer much more than simply legal technical expertise. We understand artists and small creative businesses, how they work, and what challenges they face. This allows us to cut through the jargon and work with our clients in a way that they understand and agree with, whilst ensuring we get the best results for them through negotiation or through formal court litigation if required.

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