Center for Art Law

At the crossroads of visual arts and the law.

Case Law Corner – Archives 2018

Below are our selected archives of 2018 art law cases, ranked by date of filing or opinion.

Last updated: Sept. 4, 2019.

January 2018

Hearty v. The Bonfoey Company, 1:18-cv-00015 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 3, 2018) Plaintiffs, a married couple, have filed suit against the Bonfoey Gallery, the Bonfoey Company’s president, and an art dealer in Florida that Bonfoey sold the painting at issue to. Plaintiffs stored their painting, Shades of Evening by George Inness, at their 94-year-old mother’s home, after Defendant Bonfoey failed to sell the painting under a consignment agreement. Four years later, Defendant president approached the mother,without informing Plaintiffs, and had her sign a new consignment agreement and sent the painting to Defendant art dealer in Florida. Defendant art dealer allegedly had a buyer for the painting when Plaintiffs demanded the painting’s return. Consequently, Plaintiffs brought this suit alleging replevin, conversion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, breach of bailment, civil theft, and civil conspiracy. Plaintiffs seek to enjoin and restrain Defendants from transferring the painting to a third party, and request return of the painting, damages, attorney’s fees, and costs of this action. The Complaint is available here

Equinox Gallery Ltd. v. Dorfman, 360 F. Supp. 3d 560 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 3, 2018). The Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the Equinox Gallery in Vancouver, Canada, against Fred Dorfman, famous New York art dealer facing civil charges for selling stolen work by Jasper Johns. More information here.

Berkshire Museum Lawsuits,  (Mass. App. Ct. Jan. 16, 2018). After the Massachusetts Appeals Court granted a thirty-day injunction to halt the sale of forty works from the Berkshire Museum, appellate briefs have been filed on behalf of the heirs of Norman Rockwell and the Berkshire Museum trustees. Both filings contest the Superior Court’s decision to allow the sale of the Museum’s artworks to proceed and reiterate the arguments put before the trial court. As part of the ongoing saga, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has been investigating the Museums’ planned sale. The AGO recently filed a motion to extend the injunction and have further time to review the plan. On February 1, 2018, the Appeals Court granted the AGO’s motion and continued the injunction until February 5, 2018. 

Native Am. Church of N. Am. v. Transp. Sec’y Admin.,  5:17-cv-00108-OLG (W.D. Tex. Jan. 26, 2018). A settlement agreement (available here) was reached on January 26, 2018between the Native American Church of North America and the Department of Homeland Security, namely the Transportation Security Administration, who mishandled religious artifacts while the NACNA was traveling.

February 2018

Cenedella v. Metro. Museum of Art,No. 1:2018-cv-01029 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2018). Artist Robert Cenedella filed a $100 million antitrust class action in Manhattan federal court against the giants of the New York art world, namely the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. On behalf of himself and “innumerable other deserving artists”, he claims that the museums violated antitrust laws by showing artists represented by five galleries merely because of close financial ties between the museums and the galleries. 

Zuckerman v. Metro. Museum of Art, 1:16-cv-07665 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2018). In another case the Met, the Southern District of New York ruled that the Museum does not have to give back a Picasso painting back to previous Jewish owners, who sold it in 1938, for a price below market value in an attempt to flee Italian Fascism, because the sale “occurred between private individuals, not at the command of the Fascist or Nazi governments.” 

Beale v. Wallace Gallery et al, No. 2:2018cv00871 (E.D.N.Y, Feb. 8, 2018). The cousin of Jackie Onassis Kennedy has filed a suit against the owners of a portrait of the First Lady in her teenage years, alleging that it was stolen from the East Hampton family estate in the course of a theft in the 1970s that was never reported. 

Cohen v. G&M Realty L.L.P.,1:13-cv-05612 (E.D.N.Y.  Feb. 12, 2018). In a hundred-page long decision, Judge Frederick Block of the Eastern District ruled in favor of the group of street artists who painted the “art mecca of the 5Pointz”, a highly decorated building in Long Island City. Artists sued Gerald Wolckoff, a developer who whitewashed the building without warning to make condos. This is a big win, worth $6.7 million, for street art and for moral rights. More information here, and stay tuned for an article on the blog! 

Viktor v. Lamar,No. 18-cv-1554 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2018). Visual artist Lina Iris Viktor has sued musical artists Kendrick Lamar and SZA, along with Top Dawg Entertainment for allegedly using Viktor’s art to create a scene in the music video for “All the Stars,” the lead single for the Black Panther soundtrack. Viktor further alleges that she was approached by representatives two times for the use of her art in the movie and promotion for the movie. However, she turned them down both times. Viktor has alleged copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, and vicarious contributory infringement against the defendants and demands a declaration defendants violated the Copyright Act, a permanent injunction on defendant’s use of her works, and damages. The Complaint can be read here.

Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 138 S. Ct. 816 (2018). On February 21, 2018, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that victims of an Iran-sponsored terrorist bombing cannot seize Iran’s “Persepolis Collection” at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute to fulfill payment of the damages they were previously awarded. The Court held that a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act did not remove the requirement of commercial activity from the Act’s bar on seizure of a sovereign nation’s assets unless the assets are used in commercial activities within the United States. The full opinion is available here.

Rentmeester v. Nike, Inc., No. 15-35509 (9th Cir. Feb. 27, 2018). The Ninth Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of Plaintiff photojournalist’s copyright infringement suit against Defendant Nike. Plaintiff alleged that Nike’s “Jumpman” logo infringed on a photo he took of Michael Jordan mid-dunk with the ball raised above his head. The court held that, while Plaintiff held copyright over the photo and the way the pose was expressed in it, the pose itself was not subject to copyright protection. The court further held that the logo was not substantially similar to the photograph, and thus Nike had not copied enough of Plaintiff’s work to constitute an unlawful appropriation. The full decision can be read here

US v. Kyriacou, Canaye, et al., CR-18-0102 (E.D. N.Y., Filed Feb. 28, 2018; Superseding Indictment Submitted March 20, 2018). In March 2018, a press release by the Department of Justice revealed that six individuals and four corporate entities were indicted on charges of “conspiracy to commit securities fraud and money laundering conspiracy”. British art dealer Matthew Green is among the defendants. He is charged with conspiring to launder money using art: Green and others agreed to help an undercover agent clean “over $9 million dollars, which [he] represented to be the proceeds of securities fraud”, by selling him the Picasso painting “Personnages” and thus providing him with paperwork for the purchase. The operation was halted before the painting’s ownership was transferred. Original indictment available here.

March 2018

Equinox Gallery Ltd. v. Dorfman, 360 F. Supp. 3d 560 (S.D.N.Y. 2018). The Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the Equinox Gallery in Vancouver, Canada, against Fred Dorfman, famous New York art dealer facing civil charges for selling stolen work by Jasper Johns. More information here

April 2018

Reif, Fraenkel, and Vavra v. Nagy, No. 161799/2015 (N.Y. App. Div, April 5, 2018). The New York Superior Court awarded title of two Egon Schiele paintings to the heirs of Holocaust victim Franz Friedrich, in application of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act 2016, which expands federal statute of limitation for Nazi-era looted art to six years. The full decision can be found here.

Tananbaum v. Gagosian Gallery, Inc. et al., No. 651889/2018 (NY Sup. Ct., filed on April 19, 2018). In September 2013, a private collector signed a contract with Jeff Koons and the Gagosian Gallery, whereby they would deliver him three sculptures worth more than $13 million. Five years later, he filed a complaint (available here) against the two kings of the New York art scene, condemning a Ponzi-like fraudulent scheme

Silver v. Gagosian Gallery, Inc., No. 652090/2018 (Sup. Ct. NY filed on April 27, 2018). This is the second lawsuit filed in eight days against Defendant Gagosian Gallery (alone!) in connection with its prospective sale of multi-million dollar sculptures by artist Jeff Koons. According to the complaint, Plaintiff Silver, a film producer, paid $8 million for a sculpture “Balloon Venus” in 2014 and he is yet to see the yellow goddess emerge from Koons’ studio. “Frustrated by the delay and skeptical when, if ever,” the sculpture he wanted would be done, Silver asked for his money back and learned that he would be forfeiting $3.2 million if he were to stop making payments on the revised payment plan. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment and alleges breach of NY Arts and Cultural Affairs Law. Complaint available upon request. 

Madonna Ciccone v. Gotta Have It Collectibles, No. 156454/2017 (Sup. Ct. NY. April 23, 2018) In July 2017, Gotta Have Rock and Roll held an auction of Madonna’s personal items, orchestrated by her former assistant, including a breakup letter she wrote to American rapper Tupac Shakur (a/k/a 2Pac). The singer filed an emergency court order, alleging that the items should not have been in the possession of her assistant and that she never agreed to the sale. The court ruled in favor of the auction house, saying that Madonna had not made any demand for the return of her possessions and that she forfeited her rights. Decision available here

Shepard v. European Pressphoto Agency, 291 F. Supp. 3d 465 (S.D.N.Y. 2017, settled Ap. 2018). The plaintiffs, courtroom artists, illustrated many high-profile criminal trials. Their works were published without their consent by the defendants, an international news services and a stock photo agency.   Claiming copyright infringement, breach of licensing agreement and unfair competition, the court granted the motion to dismiss on two last claims, as they are preempted under the Copyrights Act 1976. The court denied to the motion on the copyright claim. The case was ultimately settled in April 2018. Full decision here.

May 2018

Neumann v. Sotheby’s, Inc., No. 652170/2018 (Sup. Ct. NY, filed May 3, 2018). This dispute, now pending appeal, involves the 86 year-old paterfamilias of the Neumann family, who seeks an injunction against Sotheby’s from offering the painting “Flesh and Spirit” by Jean-Michel Basquiat for sale. Neumann alleged that per a 2015 agreement, which was confirmed a year later, Sotheby’s promised Neumann that they would seek his “approval on all matters relating to cataloging, placement, and exhibiting each and every work consigned”. Although pieces in the collection are “owned by a variety of persons and entities”, they are all considered part of the Neumann Family Collection, of which Hubert Neumann is the steward. However, in April 2018 Neumann learned that his daughter Belinda had consigned Basquiat’s “Flesh and Spirit” – part of the collection – to Sotheby’s for a sale in May, breaching the terms of his previous agreement with the auction house. Complaint available here

Shagalov v. Edelman, 6449N 655576/17 (N.Y. App. Div. May 3, 2018). The New York State Appellate Division affirmed a lower court order granting a preliminary injunction to enjoin defendants Asher Edelman et al. from “transporting, transferring, disposing, alienating, pledging, assigning, or otherwise encumbering or moving Keith Haring’s ‘Untitled (March 5, 1984)’ and Frank Stella’s ‘Guifa E La Berretta Rossa’ and ‘La Scienza della Fiacca.'” The plaintiffs, represented by Barton, LLP, successfully demonstrated that they would be “irreparably harmed absent the requested preliminary injunction” and met their burden of “establishing a reasonable probability of success on the merits of their claim that defendants violated their UCC Article 9 rights.” The decision is available here

Morgan Art Found. Ltd. v. McKenzie, 1:18-cv-04438-AT (S.D.N.Y. May 18, 2018). Robert Indiana, the American artist famous for his “LOVE” statues, is at the center of a recent lawsuit brought in mid-May. Morgan Art Foundation, the artist’s agent for the past twenty years, is accusing art publisher American Image Art, its founder Michael McKenzie, and Indiana’s employee Jamie Thomas of copyright infringement, trademark infringement, breach of contract, unfair competition, and other counts for exploiting the artist and selling forged works. Indiana himself is also implicated by the plaintiff in the copyright infringements, because he has “a financial interest in and the ability to supervise the infringing activity”of the other defendants, and had conveyed rights to many of his works to Morgan Art Foundation in two earlier agreements. The original complaint is available here.

June 2018

Zuckerman v. Metro Museum of Art, No. 18-0634-cv (2nd Cir. filed June 1, 2018). This brief amicus curiae pertains to the subject of “Flight Art” in the case of Zuckerman v. the Metropolitan Museum of Art in which the court ruled in favor of the Museum’s rights to ownership and to display “The Actor” by Pablo Picasso. Paul Leffman, the former owner of the painting in question, was forced to sell the piece to the Nazis at an exceedingly low price in order to escape persecution during the war. This brief is intended to demonstrate to the court the historical nuances of “flight art” such as The Actor and better inform its members to make future decisions taking into consideration these nuances. This brief is supported by a number of foundations experts in the field of Nazi-looted art, including The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), Lucille A. Roussin, and Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat. The brief can be found here. ** The state is petitioning for the lower court to rehear the case. The met is claiming to have the petition rejected because the sale was not made under duress. 

Close. v. Frieze Sotheby’s, Inc., 1:18-cv-05134 (S.D.N.Y. June 8, 2018). A recent decision was made by the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit in the case brought by artist Chuck Close against Sotheby’s Inc. concerning the California Resale Royalties Act (‘CRRA’). Under the CRRA, artists were entitled to 5% of the proceeds of any resale of their work. The plaintiff in this case was seeking resale royalties covered under the CRRA since the statue’s effective date of January 1st, 1977. The court ruled in two part; dismissing the plaintiff’s claims covered by the 1976 Copyright Act (i.e. those that come after the effective date of this act, January 1st 1978) and reversing the dismissal of claims covered by the 1909 Copyright Act concerning sales that occurred between the CRRA’s effective date of January 1, 1977, and the 1976 Act’s effective date of January 1, 1978. This decision will effectively put an end to the last remaining remnants of droit de suite in American legal code concerning artists rights to profits made from the sale and resale of their works. 

Barnet v. Greek Ministry of Culture, No. 1:18-cv-04963 (S.D.N.Y. June 5, 2018). In its first legal action against a country, Sotheby’s is suing Greece in the Southern District of New York for declaratory judgment to determine who has the legal rights to an eighth century BC statuette of a bronze horse. The action comes after the Greek culture ministry sent a letter requesting the piece be removed from an auction, asserting that the statuette did not leave Greece legally. The defendants moved to dismiss the case. 

Neumann-Donnelly v. Neumann (In re Estate of Neumann), No. 652857/2018 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cnty. filed June 7, 2018). While the Center for Art Law’s May newsletter and the case review in the 7 June blog post have covered Hubert Neumann’s unsuccessful attempt to halt the sale of Basquiat’s “Flesh and Spirit” in Neumann v. Sotheby’s, Inc., No. 652170/18 (N.Y. App. Div. May 16, 2018), the family drama is not yet over. In June, Neumann’s daughter Belinda sued her father, alleging that “he had intentionally depressed the price of a major Basquiat sold at auction last month with a failed and frivolous lawsuit to stop the sale.” Ironically, one of Hubert Neumann’s claims against Sotheby’s was that the auction house had “set far too low an estimate of the value of the work.” Sotheby’s sold “Flesh and Spirit” for $30.7M. A copy of the Belinda’s complaint is available here.

Shane Campbell Gallery, Inc. v. Frieze Events, Inc., 1:18-cv-05134 (S.D.N.Y. June 8, 2018). Nearly a month after the art fair, the Frieze organizers sent an apology to the nearly 200 exhibitors apologizing for the extreme heat in the bespoke tent and offering a 10% refund. A day later, Shane Campbell Gallery, located in Chicago, sued in the Southern District of New York for breach of contract, seeking a full refund and alleging $15 million in damages. The complaint was filed by Lewis Saul of Lewis Saul & Associates, P.C. The gallery hopes to achieve class action status in the lawsuit, stating that “Frieze’s partial refund offer [w]as ‘wholly inadequate,’ adding: ‘We intend to litigate this to the fullest extent possible to give galleries what they deserve.’” Judge Richard J. Sullivan was appointed to preside over the case. The court docket is available here.

Brammer v. Violent Hues Prods., LLC, No. 1-17-cv-01009, 2018 WL 2921089  (E.D. Va. June 11, 2018). In a major blow to photographers, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that a commercial website’s re-use of another’s photograph found on the internet is fair use and is not subject to copyright infringement. The case revolves around plaintiff/photographer Russell Brammer’s time-lapse photograph of the Adams-Morgan area of Washington, D.C., which was copyrighted by plaintiff. Defendant Violent Hues found the photo online and used it in an informational section of a website created for its Northern Virginia Film Festival. The judge granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a decision that is sure to be appealed. The case can be found here

Cohen v. G&M Realty L.P., No.13-CV-05612(FB)(RLM) (E.D.N.Y. June 13, 2018). decision was reached by Judge Frederic Block that struck down real-estate developer Gerald Wolkoff’s motion to “vacate the judgement or grant a new trial” regarding the February decision that saw him paying $6.75 million to the graffiti artists of 5Pointz. Wolkoff was found guilty of the willfully destroying 45 works of visual art created by the artists of 5Pointz by painting over them in 2013. Accordingly, Wolkoff came into possession of 5Pointz’ complex in Long Island City and whitewashed the works street art before he officially received a permit 10 months later to demolish the building to begin construction of condos. Judge Block has now struck down Wolkoff’s post-trial motion, claiming that: “if not for Wolkoff’s insolence, [the maximum statutory] damages would not have been assessed” since “[i]f he did not destroy 5Pointz until he received his permits and demolished it 10 months later, the Court would not have found that he had acted willfully,” and “a modest amount of statutory damages would probably have been more in order.” The decision by Block will undoubtedly have future repercussions on relations between the real-estate and art worlds. The decision is available here.

State of New York v. Trump,  No. 451130/2018 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cnty. filed June 14, 2018). After a nearly two-year investigation, Barbara Underwood, the Attorney General for the State of New York, filed a complaint against Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric F. Trump, and The Donald J. Trump Foundation alleging violations of state and federal laws governing New York State charities. The complaint accuses the charity and the Trump family of “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.” The Attorney General is seeking dissolution of the Foundation, enjoinder to prevent the board members from future service as director of any future New York not-for-profit organizations, restitution, and penalties, as well as cooperation from the Foundation in directing its assets to other charitable organizations. The complaint is available here.

Khochinsky v. Republic of Poland,  No. 1:18-cv-01532 (D.D.C. filed June 27, 2018). Mr. Alexander Khochinsky, the son of a Polish Jew who was forced to flee her land in Przemysl, Poland before the Nazi invasion of the country, has filed a complaint in the U.S. Supreme Court against the Republic of Poland for their efforts to extradite him in 2015 on criminal charges in Poland. In 2010, Khockinsky became aware of the existence of a painting, Girl with Dove by Antoine Pesne, that was in his family’s possession before the Nazi invasion. The painting appeared on display in a museum in Poznan Poland and Khochinsky began efforts to seek restitution of the painting. In 2014, the Polish government filed criminal charges against Khochinsky claiming that Khochinsky came into possession of the painting “despite being aware of the fact that the painting originated from a prohibited act—looting of property in 1943 by the then authorities of the German Third Reich.” Khochinsky was arrested in 2015 in the United States for a brief period of time but was soon cleared of charges by the Supreme Court. According to attorney Matthew O’Donnell, this case is no doubt the product of the current Polish government’s complicated relationship with the history and memory of the Holocaust (Shoah). The complaint can be found here.  

Davidson v. United States, No. 13-942C, 2018 U.S. Claims Lexis 801 (Fed. Cl. June 29, 2018).  In a case involving the USPS putting a Getty Image photo ofartist Robert S. Davidson’s Las Vegas version of the Statue of Liberty on approximately 3.5 billion stamps, Judge Bruggink of the Court of Federal Claims ruled that plaintiff’s work was “sufficiently original to be afforded copyright protection” and the USPS’s use of the image was not authorized under federal copyright law. The court ordered the Postal Service to pay the artist $3.5 million, plus interest. The brief can be found here

July 2018

Matter of Salz, 2018 NY Slip Op 04965 (App. Div. July 5, 2018). New York’s First Department Appellate Division affirmed the Surrogate’s court decision to dismiss the petition for discovery by a newly-appointed administrator of the Sam Salz Estate on the grounds that fraud which might have been conducted in settling the affairs of the renowned private art dealer should have been discovered sometime after 1999. It was the second ruling from the court in connection with the Salz estate, see Matter of Salz, 80 A.D.2d 769, 436 N.Y.S.2d 713 (App. Div. 1981).

August 2018

Nothing to report

September 2018

Adrian Falkner v. General Motors Company et al., 2:18-cv-00549 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2018). A California federal judge allowed the street artist Adrian Falkner to move forward in his copyright lawsuit against General Motors over an advertisement that incorporated his work. GM failed to convince the judge on summary judgment that the mural was inseparable from the parking garage. This sets aside the classification of the mural as an architectural work, which copyright law permits pictorial representations. Nonetheless, the court denied Falker’s punitive claim for punitive damages. Order available upon request. 

US v. Chowaiki, 1:18-cv-00323 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2018). Manhattan art dealer Erza Chowaiki plead guilty to charges of fraud, and was sentenced to spend 18 months in prison. This is the end of a procedure following his bankruptcy and three years of supervised release for defrauding art dealers and collectors of millions of dollars. He was also ordered to give up his interest in more than 20 works of art involved in the fraud, including pieces by Picasso and Alexander Calder. 

Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art,897 F.3d 1141 (9th Cir. 2018). Lucas Craner the Elder’s “Adam and Eve” painting was the subject of a long battle between the family of the original owners and the Norton Simon Museum in California. The Renaissance painting was forcibly sold by Jacques Goudstikker, a Jewish art dealer in the Netherlands during WWII, but the Dutch court denied the heirs’ claims based on their failure with the statute of limitations for Nazi-era looted art restoration. The Ninth Circuit court ruled in favor of the museum, to avoid overruling the Dutch decision. Full text of the decision here.  

Williams v. Nat’l Gallery, No. 17-3253-cv, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 25519 (2d Cir. 2018). The New York Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the restitution of a Matisse painting, entitled “Portrait of Greta Moll”, who was one of the painter’s muses. The painting was in the possession of the  National Gallery in London and Greta’s heirs sought to have the piece back, claiming it was stolen from her home in 1947. The Court denied the claim on grounds of lack of jurisdiction because the alleged theft would have occurred two years after the end of WWII. More information here.  

Tobin v. Rector, Church-Wardens, & Vestrymen of Trinity Church, No. 17-4010-cv, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 23761 (2d Cir. 2018). The Second Circuit denied VARA claims to Steven Tobin, the artist behind a 9/11 memorial at the Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. The claimant sought relief for the removal of his “Trinity Root” sculpture from the church site to a Connecticut seminary, which he claims violated his moral rights. However, the court held that he had signed a contract with Trinity, where he waived any such right. Full decision here

October 2018

Accent Delight International Ltd. et al v. Sotheby’s et al, 1:18-cv-09011-JMF (Oct. 2, 2018). In another international and voluminous case, now against Sotheby’s, the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev claims that Swiss businessman and art dealer Yves Bouvier defrauded him in connection with the purchase of a world-class art collection, to the tune of approximately one billion dollars. The Complaint alleges that Sotheby’s aided and abetted the fraud and is available upon request. 

Meaders v. Helwaser et al., No. 1:18-cv-05039 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 8, 2018). This on-going case is awaiting response from the court on whether a standing stabile by Alexander Calder was lawfully sold to Helwaser Gallery in 2016. A relative of Phyliss P. Meaders was given the Calder as a gift and she argues that her partial ownership of the work entitles her to damages when it was sold by her bother Paul Mead III without her knowledge. Complaint and answer available upon request.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Gregory Michael Priore, No. CP-02-CR-0012634-2018, (Pa. Commw. Ct. filed Oct. 15, 2018), and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. John Ezra Schulman, No. CP-02-CR-0012635-2018, (Pa. Commw. Ct. filed Oct. 15, 2018). Recently, a Geneva Bible, also called a “Breeches Bible,” dating back to 1615, was discovered at the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands. The Bible was among 400 items allegedly stolen  by Gregory Priore, an archivist at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburg. Dr. Jeremy Bangs, the Dutch museum’s director, acquired the Bible from dealer John Schulman in 2015, in preparation for an upcoming exhibition. Bangs was contacted by investigators asking for the Bible’s return, after which he contacted the Dutch police, who worked with the American Embassy and the F.B.I. Art Crime Team to transport the Bible back to the U.S. Both Priore and Schulman are being prosecuted

Kapoor v. National Rifle Association of America, No. 1:18-cv-01320 (E.D. Va. filed Oct. 23, 2018). London-based sculptor Anish Kapoor reached a settlement with the NRA in a copyright lawsuit for including his famous “Cloud Gate” (2004), a/k/a the Chicago “Bean” in a video attacking the media. The case, originally filed in Illinois, had been transferred for lack of personal jurisdiction, because the artist had no link to Illinois other than the existence of the sculpture, and the NRA is headquartered in Virginia. 

Viktor v. Top Dawg Entertainment LLC, No. 1:18-cv-01554 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2018). A New York federal judge refused to give hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar a partial win against a visual artist’s claims that the musician ripped off her artwork for the soundtrack of the movie “Black Panther”. The case will move forward to discovery. Full opinion here.

Alexander v. Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. et al., No. 3:18-cv-00966 (S.D.Ill. Oct. 24, 2018). The defendant, a video-game company, moved to dismiss the case brought by a tattoo artist against them, where the artist complains that her work, a tribal tattoo placed on the skin of WWE wrestler Randy Orton, was illegally reproduced in the video-game. This is not the first suit concerning athletes’ tattoo reproduced in video-games [find the case of LeBron]. Complaint available here.

Artemus USA LLC v. Paul Kasmin Gallery, Inc., No. 156295/2018 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co.). The Paul Kasmin Gallery is currently being sued by Artemus, a company that allows collectors, art dealers and other professionals to leverage and monetize artworks through sale-leaseback arrangements and art-secured loans. They allege that the gallery backdated and falsified invoice in striking a 2016 deal to purchase the piece. Amended complaint available upon request.

November 2018

Sotheby’s v. de Saint Donat-Pourrieres, No. 1:17-cv-00326 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 6, 2018). Federal NY judge ordered the seller of a painting of Saint Jerome that had been attributed to Parmigianino to refund Sotheby’s after an expert report “conclusively” found that the painting was a “modern forgery.” Decision is available upon request. 

Bruce Berg v. Kingdom of The Netherlands et al., No. 2:18-cv-3123 (D.S.C. filed Nov. 11, 2018). In the wake of restitution cases brought against European museums, Bruce Berg, the heir of the Katz brothers who were Dutch partners and collectors, filed a federal suit against the Dutch government to recover paintings allegedly sold or traded under duress to representatives of the Nazi regime between mid-1940 and 1942, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Complaint available upon request. 

DeLorean v. Delorean Motor Co. (TEXAS), No. 2:18-cv-08212 (D.N.J. 2018). Federal judge rejects John DeLorean Estate’s claim for “Back to the Future” royalties, as it found that the estate for the automobile executive signed over the rights to the proceeds of the contract with Universal when it settled an earlier lawsuit. Full opinion here.

United Federation of Churches LLC v. Netflix, Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., No. 1:18-cv-10372 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 28, 2018). Netflix and Warner Bros. negotiated the settlement of the copyright lawsuit brought by the Satanic Temple for the alleged misuse of its androgynous goat-headed deity statue in the series “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” The Temple sought $50 million in damages, but the financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Complaint available here

Lehmann Maupin v. Yoo, No. 1:18-cv-11126 (S.D.N.Y. filed Nov. 29, 2018). Lehmann Maupin Gallery filed suit against their former director Bona Yoo, who jumped ship to join Lévy Gorvy after giving her employer one day’s notice. The complaint seeks to “prevent Yoo from gaining an unfair competitive advantage and recover damages it says it incurred when Yoo corrupted or deleted confidential information.” Bona Yoo has filed a response, where she claims her former employers filed suit out of spite.

December 2018

Otto v. Hearst Communications, Inc., No. 1:17-cv-04712 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 10, 2018). A case over a photo misused by several media sources to headline stories about US President Donald Trump highlights how Copyright law extends to amateur photographers, such as Jonathan Otto in this case. The Southern District allowed Otto to claim originality in his work, and found that Esquire.com’s use of the 2017 photo of Trump at a private wedding in an article about him crashing the wedding was not fair use. Order available upon request.

His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, The Archbishop of Constantinople, Newrome, and Ecumenical Patriarch et al., v. Princeton University, No. 3:18-cv-17195 (D.N.J. filed on Dec. 13, 2018). Princeton University’s collection includes Byzantine Era Manuscripts that church leaders argued were stolen from a monastery in Greece during World War I. Evidence put forth by the church leaders includes a Princeton published book stating that the manuscripts had been taken by Bulgarian guerrilla forces in 1917, while Princeton remains confident in their provenance research as evidence that the manuscripts were not looted. Complaint available upon request.

Cenedella v. Metropolitan Museum of Art et al., No. 1:18-cv-01029 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2018). Artist Robert Cenedella’s suit against five major New York museums was dismissed for insufficient evidence. He was claiming that the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the New Museum were conspiring to exclude him and other deserving artists from their collections and exhibition programs, for not being represented by major galleries. Order available upon request.

U.S. v. One Painting Entitled “Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina”, No. 1:18-cv-03015 (D.D.C. filed Dec. 20, 2018). The U.S. Attorney filed a notice of forfeiture of an oil painting entitled “Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina” by Russian artist Mikhail N. Panin. The piece hung on the walls of the Connecticut home of Holocaust survivor Gabby Tracy; it was sent for auction in 2017 before research revealed that it had been looted from the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum in Ukraine during WWII. The government seized the painting right before the auction, which was not contested by the Tracys. The Notice functions as a way to make sure no one else claims ownership before the FBI gives the painting back to Ukraine. Complaint available here.

Schmitt v. Artforum Int’l Magazine, Inc., 2018 Slip Op 33345(U) (N.Y. Sup. Dec. 20, 2018). The New York Supreme Court has dismissed Amanda Schmitt’s retaliation claim against her former employer and publisher of Artforum Magazine, Knight Landesman. Schmitt claimed that Landesman had harassed her and other women while working at Artforum. However, the statute of limitations on workplace sexual misconduct had expired. Therefore, Schmitt proceeded under a retaliation claim. Judge Nervo dismissed the case finding that the five-year gap between Schmitt’s employment at Artforum to the confrontation in question had removed the requisite nexus to sustain her claim.

Close v. Sotheby’s, No. 16-56234 (9th Cir. 2018). The panel of 9th Circuit judges held that claims under the California Resale Royalty Act (CRRA) were preempted by the Federal Copyrights Act 1976. Interestingly, the panel awarded Defendants attorney’s fees under the CRRA on December 3rd; despite holding that the Act was expressly preempted. Read our case review here; Order available here.

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