Reif v. Art Institute of Chicago, 1:23-cv-02443-JGK, (SDNY, November 9, 2023).
In a new Nazi-looted art case, parties gave oral arguments on Friday November 9, 2023 in a motion to dismiss hearing. This case is another in a line of cases involving the artwork formerly belonging to the Grünbaum family. Fritz Grünbaum was an Austrian-Jewish cabaret performer who the Nazis captured and killed in Dachau. Recently, much of the family’s collection was returned to them by the Manhattan DA’s Office from the various institutions the artworks ended up at after World War II. One of those institutions was the Art Institute of Chicago, who refused to return the work, asserting that the claim is time-barred. At issue at the hearing was the statute of limitations, laches, whether the art was truly looted, the HEAR Act, and some previous cases surrounding the Grünbaum family. Read more here and view docket here. (AME)
Andersen v. Stability AI Ltd., 23-cv-00201-WHO (N.D. Cal. Oct. 30, 2023)
U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick dismissed most of the claims made against AI companies in the first major copyright infringement class action lawsuit of its kind. The three artists—Sarah Anderson, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz—filed a complaint in January 2023 against the companies behind the AI generators Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and Dream Up, claiming that their works were used to train AI models without their consent. Judge Orrick made a clear distinction between works that have registered copyrights and works that do not, referencing the Copyright Office’s rule that the copyright has to be registered in order to bring a lawsuit for infringement. Therefore, while Anderson could move forward with her case, Ortiz and McKernan’s claims were dismissed because they, unlike Anderson, did not register their copyrights prior to filing a lawsuit. The Judge also noted that the artists have to prove “substantial similarity” between a generated work and their image used to train the A.I. model. Read more here. (RW)
Frederick Iseman v. Michael Hecht et al., No. Unassigned (N.Y 2023)
The nephew of the late abstract expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler, Frederick Iseman, sued the artist’s foundation and its directors—including his cousin Clifford Ross and Frankenthaler’s stepdaughter, Lise Motherwell—accusing the organization of mismanaging the artist’s legacy. His complaint, filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, accuses the remaining board members of breaching their fiduciary duties, claiming that their incompetence and care for their own interests caused the foundation to lag behind its competitors. The complaint also seeks the dismissal of board members Ross, Motherwell, and Hecht, and compensation to the foundation for their allegedly improper actions. The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation responded that board elections are fair and that Iseman was involved in all of its activities. Read the complaint here. (RW)
Elam v. Early, 1:23-cv-229 (MSN/WEF) (E.D. Va. Oct. 31, 2023)
A family dispute over the inheritance of four Norman Rockwell drawings that hung in the White House has been resolved. The dispute centered around a series of illustrations known as “You Want to See the President,” which hung in the White House between 1978 and 2022. The original artworks were given to the president’s press secretary Stephen T. Early, whose heirs contested the drawings’ ownership. In 2017, when Early’s son Thomas Early saw the drawings hanging in the West Wing of the White House in the background of an interview with Donald Trump, he suspected that his nephew William Nile Elam II must have lent them without the family’s permission, Thomas Early and requested that the works be taken down. The Elam family in turn claimed that Stephen Early gave the illustrations to his daughter, Helen Early Elam, who then passed them to her son William Elam. The Judge ruled that Elam was “entitled to benefit from the common law presumption of ownership.” The relatives’ only chance to challenge this sense of entitlement would have been to demonstrate that Elam obtained the works through theft. However, the judge stated that they couldn’t present “sufficient evidence of theft,” failing to support their claim that Elam intentionally concealed his identity by anonymously lending the works to the White House or that it was part of a larger plan to claim sole ownership. Elam’s legal team contends that the works were lent to the White House after an attempted break-in at the home of Helen Early who passed away in 1978. (RW) Read the opinion here.
In case R 1246/2021-5 (European Union Intellectual Property Office Fifth Board of Appeal) (25 October 2022)
Full Colour Black Ltd and its owner Andrew Gallagher filed a libel claim in the King’s Bench Division of the High Court against the anonymous artist Banksy and their company, Pest Control Office Limited. The claim arises from a now deleted instagram post made by Banksy in which Full Colour Black allegedly referred to them using defamatory language. Full Colour Black is seeking £1,357,086 ($1.6 million) in damages and an injunction that would prevent Banksy from making more remarks that would be considered defamatory towards them. Read more here and find the decision here.