18 July 2019CopyrightRory O'Neill

Ai Weiwei wins payout over car ads backdrop

A Danish court has awarded Chinese artist Ai Weiwei more than a quarter of a million dollars in damages after Denmark’s licensed Volkswagen importer used his work in an advertising campaign without his permission.

“This market exploitation of Ai Weiwei's artwork was in clear contradiction with the considerations and thoughts that were behind the work and the detailed content of the work,” the Glostrup City Court said yesterday, July 17.

The court awarded the artist DKK1.75 million ($262,746) in damages.

The dispute arose after Skandinavisk Motor Company (SMC) published an ad in its “VieW” magazine for a new car model, which featured Ai’s work “Soleil Levant” as a backdrop.

The work consisted of a barricade of more than 3,000 life jackets collected from refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. Ai displayed the work on the facade of Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg, one of Europe’s largest art galleries, for more than three months in 2017.

According to the Danish court, SMC admitted copyright infringement but denied that Ai’s rights were violated under Danish marketing law.

The court noted when calculating the damages award that SMC had printed 216,500 copies of the magazine, and that the ad was available on SMC’s website for nearly a month from October to November 2017.

UK street art case ‘only a matter of time’

Tim Maxwell, partner at  Charles Russell Speechlys in London, has represented numerous artists in copyright infringement suits in the UK.

Speaking to WIPR, Maxwell said that the ruling could have a significant impact on similar cases in the UK and other jurisdictions.

Ai’s success could encourage other lesser-known artists to take disputes over use of their copyright to court, Maxwell suggested.

He noted that, at present, there was no applicable case law in the UK for the unauthorised use of street art in advertising campaigns.

But an increasing number of street artists seeking to enforce their rights in court, Maxwell said it would be “only a matter of time” before a similar judgment arrived in the UK.

He said that street artists were often particularly vulnerable to copyright infringement.

“Street artists lack control over their art, anyone can turn up and use it, they think they can just use it as part of the public panorama,” Maxwell said.

But, Maxwell said, given that an increasing amount of street art is commissioned, there was no reason “not to treat it the same” as any other art.

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