Your Browser Does Not Support JavaScript. Please Update Your Browser and reload page. Have a nice day! From the May 2020 Newsletter – Center for Art Law

United States

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance has struck a deal with Christie’s, putting an end to an investigation into the auction house’s violations of the New York Tax Law and New York Penal Law. The latter will pay up to $10 million in fines to the State of New York for failing to collect New York and local sales tax between 2013 to 2017. Press Release available here.

Farrington v. InfoWars, LLC, No. 1:2020-cv-00332 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 26, 2020). Brooklyn photographer William Farrington is suing Alex Jones’ website InfoWars, alleging that the latter used, without permission or credit, a picture taken by Farrington depicting emergency medical technicians attempting to revive convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein after he committed suicide in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Farrington is claiming copyright infringement and his right to refrain others from using his work without consent. Complaint available upon request.

AM General LLC v. Activision Blizzard, Inc. et al., No. 1:2017-cv-08644 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2020). Video company and Call of Duty maker Activision has prevailed in the trademark dispute brought by AM General, the government contractor for the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (colloquially known as “Humvees”). New York federal judge ruled that Activision had a First Amendment right to depict contemporary warfare in its game, and that the use of the Humvees by the Defendant has some artistic relevance. Opinion available here.

Sinclair v. Ziff Davis LLC, and al., No. 1:18-cv-00790 (S.D.N.Y. Ap. 13, 2020). In the case between photographer Stephanie Sinclair and news media Mashable, the Southern District of New York, on a motion for summary judgment, ruled that Instagram public users agree to a de facto license, via the platform’s Terms of Use, which allows others to embed one of their public posts onto a website without infringing on the creator’s copyright. Opinion available here.

Christie’s Inc. v. Turner et al., No. 1:20-cv-03146 (S.D.N.Y. filed on Ap. 20, 2020). In 2018, the Debra L. Turner entered into a consignment contract with Christie’s auction house for a work by Peter Paul Rubens, entitled “A Satyr holding a Basket of Grapes and Quinces with a Nymph.” The work was sold for nearly $6 million to Sean Parker, Facebook first President, but the consignor claimed she had withdrawn the painting from auction before its sale. On April 20, Christie’s filed a petition in Manhattan Federal Court to affirm an arbitrator’s ruling that Christie’s complied with its contractual obligations and that the successful bidder had lawfully acquired the painting. The Parker Foundation will keep the art piece and Turner will keep the proceeds.

Pindell v. N’Namdi et al., No. 1:2020-cv-00818 (S.D.N.Y. Ap. 21, 2020). Artist Howardena Pindell has filed a complaint in federal court against her former gallery, seven of its related entities, and a collector, accusing them of lying to her about sales of her works, failing to pay her, and refusing to return artworks upon her request. The complaint alleges replevin, conversion, and violation of various artist-gallery consignment statutes, including New York Art & Cultural Affairs Law and the Illinois Consignment of Art Act. Amended complaint dated April 2020 available upon request.

Morgan Art Found. Ltd. v. McKenzie et al., No. 1:18-cv-04438-AT (S.D.N.Y. filed on Ap. 27, 2020). In the ongoing legal dispute between the Morgan Art Foundation (“MAF”), which holds the copyright and trademark rights to all images and sculptures produced by late artist Robert Indiana, against his estate, his former art dealer Michael McKenzie and his company American Image Art (“AIA”), the latter filed an amended answer with counterclaims against MAF for what the defendants’ attorney is calling “one of the most massive art frauds in history.” The claims are based on the fact that Indiana’s LOVE was created before 1965, falling under the purview of the 1909 Copyright Act requiring authors to affix to his/her art a notice of Copyright prior to publication, or else the intellectual property rights would be abandoned. AIA is arguing that Indiana has failed to do so and that the LOVE sculpture is in the public domain, making the 1999 assignment to, and subsequent licensing by, MAF invalid. Amended answer available upon request.


France | The Paris Court of Appeals confirmed the lower court’s ruling that a company did not fail to care, preserve, and restore 121 bronze sculptures in their custody after they were vandalized. In particular, the court relied on the fact that the company would have had to spend half a million euros to restore the works, and said that “an author’s right of integrity does not justify ordering the owner of the tangible work to protect such work against change and to preserve it under unreasonable conditions.” CA Paris, March 10, 2020, No. 18/08248.

India | The Indian police charged a cyber-scammer who tried to list the world’s largest statue, the 600-foot-tall monument Statue of Unity located in India, for $4 million under the false pretense of raising funds for coronavirus relief.