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The Vatican Faces a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit


by Jana Farmer on June 17, 2022

image-2-440x267Street artist Alessia Babrow has sued the Vatican, alleging that the Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State copied her artwork without her permission and reprinted it as a stamp. The art was a painting of Jesus by nineteenth-century artist Heinrich Hofmann, to which Ms. Babrow had added the slogan “just use it.” Besides neglecting to request Ms. Babrow’s permission, the Vatican allegedly only credited Hofmann, and not Ms. Babrow, for the derivative work. Ms. Babrow is seeking approximately $160,000 in damages and reportedly turned down a private visit with the Pope in favor of continuing her lawsuit.

The remaining summaries of news headlines are separated by region for your browsing convenience.


Graffiti Cleanup Effort Leads to VARA Lawsuit
Aerosol artist Michael McLeer a/k/a Kaves has sued the New York Police Department for painting over some of his outdoor artworks in New York City that he claims were made with full authorization of the property owner. One of the works that the NYPD allegedly painted over had been in place for 13 years. The lawsuit claims that the NYPD allegedly failed to inquire into the permitted status of the art prior to painting over it. Kaves has sued under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which has previously been used successfully to protect street art. The matter was filed before the federal court in Brooklyn, the same court in which the now-famous 5Pointz case involving destruction of street art originated.

Painting Stolen by Nazis Finds Home in Oklahoma
Camille Pissarro’s La Bergère Rentrant des Moutons (Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep) (1886) was the subject of an almost 10-year restitution saga led by Holocaust survivor Léone-Noëlle Meyer, whose parents were the lawful owners of the artwork when it was looted by the Nazis in 1941. The artwork was donated to the University of Oklahoma in 2000 by Clara Weitzenhoffer, a subsequent good faith purchaser for value. In 2016, Ms. Meyer reached a settlement with the University of Oklahoma, in accordance with which the artwork was to travel between the United States and France every three years. Ms. Meyer subsequently tried to invalidate the settlement, in part given the subsequent passage of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, which would have benefited her restitution efforts. After facing significant setbacks in her legal case, including fines for breaching the terms of the agreement, Ms. Meyers has discontinued her efforts to invalidate the 2016 settlement. Now, the painting will be on display on a rotating basis in France and at the University of Oklahoma.

Corita Kent’s Art Studio Granted Landmark Status, Escapes Demolition
Artist Corita Kent, a former Catholic nun who became a Pop artist and an activist, was inspired by Andy Warhol’s 1962 Ferus Gallery exhibition to address the pressing issues of racial and social injustice through art. Her studio in Los Angeles became a gathering spot in the 1960s for female activists. When the studio was slated to be razed and turned into a parking lot by the current property owner, the Corita Art Center called for the studio’s preservation, noting the shortage of cultural landmarks celebrating women’s heritage in Los Angeles (only 3 percent of the cultural monuments in Los Angeles represent women). The Los Angeles City Council agreed to grant landmark status to the studio.


Artists Who Sell Directly to Collectors Are Not “Art Market Participants” Under New UK Law
On June 10, a new anti‒money laundering regulation came into full force in the United Kingdom, under which art market participants (AMPs) who sell artworks for €10,000 or more must comply with the new regulations, including verification of clients’ identity, due diligence on each transaction and involved compliance programs. In a relief for artists, however, the UK Treasury recently announced that artists will not be considered AMPs and will therefore not need to comply with the new costly regulations. Welcome relief it may be, but too late for many artists who already undertook the expense to comply with the regulations.

Banksy’s Work May Not Be Protected by Either Copyright or Trademark
Famously anonymous street artist Banksy’s words, “copyright is for losers,” are coming back to haunt him as his representatives lose another trademark battle to protect one of his artworks against commercial exploitation by third parties. Pest Control Office Limited, the company that holds itself out as responsible for issuing certificates of authenticity for Banksy, filed a number of applications for trademark protection, in the United Kingdom and abroad for some of Banksy’s works. One such graphic trademark, consisting of Banksy’s image of a monkey wearing a sandwich board, was held invalid by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The application for declaration of invalidity was brought by a greeting card company that had copied Banksy’s work for use in their greeting cards. The EUIPO cited Banksy’s explicit statements that the public is free to use any copyrighted work, as well as the artist’s elusive identity, making it difficult to protect his artworks under copyright laws, as factors in its decision. Similar applications to invalidate other trademarks of Banksy’s artworks are to be heard by EUIPO within the next month or so. The outcome is likely to be similar.

Oxford Classics Professor Accused of Selling Stolen Art to Hobby Lobby
Craft chain Hobby Lobby filed suit against an Oxford University professor of classics for allegedly selling Hobby Lobby $760,000 worth of stolen ancient Egypt art. According to the complaint, Hobby Lobby made many purchases of art from Dr. Obbink over the course of three years to include in Hobby Lobby’s planned Museum of the Bible, but the art it received had allegedly been stolen from Oxford University’s Sackler Library. Obbink had represented to Hobby Lobby that he was selling papyri that came from private collectors. Hobby Lobby has returned the art to Oxford.

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