Kerson v. Vermont Law School, Inc., No. 21-2904 (2d Cir. 2023)
In the 1990s, artist Sam Kerson painted a mural within Vermont Law School which depicted the brutality of slavery and Vermont’s hand in protesting slavery and helping people escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Due to the recent shift in racial climate in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, students have called for the administration at Vermont Law School to remove the murals stating that the depiction of African Americans resembles historically racist iconography. The administration was quick to agree in covering the mural. Mr. Kerson pushed back, suing the school under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) for violating his moral rights due to the school’s installation of acoustic panels to cover the mural. He argued that the panels violated his rights as they “modified” and even “destroyed” the art without his consent. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected this argument last week ruling that “ensconcing a work of art behind a barrier neither modifies nor destroys the work…assuming the work remains intact.” The ruling attempted to strike a balance between the property rights of the school and an artist’s preservation of their “honor and reputation.” Read more here and here. (MH)
United States v. Bouzaiz, No.22-cr-80099 ( S.D. Fla. May 30, 2023)
Daniel Elie Bouzaiz, the owner of Palm Beach galleries, Danieli Fine Art and Galerie Danieli, was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. He was found guilty of laundering money derived from his scheme of selling counterfeit artwork. Bouzaisz claimed to one customer that he was selling an original signed Warhol. The customer bought the work and gave a down payment of $200,000. The money was then wired to another account controlled by Bouzaiz.
Orlando Museum of Art, Inc. v. De Groft, 2023-CA-014410-O, (Fla. Cir. Ct. August 14, 2023).
The Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) is suing its former director for shattering its reputation after he welcomed 25 forged Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings into the museum. OMA fired Aaron De Groft shortly after the FBI raided the galleries in June during an exhibition of the “lost” paintings. The paintings were purportedly rediscovered in an abandoned storage locker and sold for more than $100 million at auction. The complaint alleges that De Groft agreed to show the pieces with knowledge that they were forged. Experts were skeptical about their authenticity due to some anachronistic elements and questionable provenance. De Groft refused to listen to those within the museum’s organization who raised red flags and even threatened their job security. Several incriminating emails included in the complaint support these claims. De Groft maintains the paintings are authentic. Read more here and read the complaint here.
Adonis Real et al v. Yuga Labs, Inc. et al, 2:22-cv-08909-FMO-PLA, ( C. D. Cal. Dec. 8, 2022).
A group of investors in ‘Bored Apes’ are suing Sotheby’s along with celebrities like Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of all buyers of Yuga’s NFTs or ApeCoins sold between April 23, 2021 and the present. The investors argue that the 2021 auction and promotion of ‘Bored Apes Yacht Club NFTs led to a collapse in prices for the celebrity endorsed collectibles. They state that Sotehny’s misleadingly promoted the NFTS and colluded with the creator Yuga Labs to artificially inflate their prices. Read here.
Frida Kahlo Corporation v. Artists Rights Society, Inc., No. 1:2021cv00635 (D. Colo. 2023)
In 2020, Frida Kahlo Corporation (FKC), a Panamanian corporation that claims to hold a number of trademarks in relation to the Mexican painter Frida Khalo, licensed Kidrobot, LLC, an art toy creator, to create a toy inspired by the Frida Khalo painting Las Dos Fridas (or The Two Fridas). A year later, Kidrobot received an email from Artists Rights Society, Inc., informing Kidrobot that they are the organization that has authority over the works of art by Frida Khalo. FKC quickly stepped in, seeking confirmation that ARS holds authority over the trust that owns the intellectual property rights to Las Dos Fridas. Once a letter was sent that seemingly confirmed this information, FKC then claimed that the trust may not have any rights over Las Dos Fridas because the work was was sold before the creation of the trust. KFC then promptly filed suit, seeking a declaratory judgment, while ARS filed a motion to dismiss. Ultimately, the court granted ARS’ motion, stating that FKC did not suffer an actual injury and thus lacked standing in this case. Read the order here.
Thaler v. Perlmutter, No. 1:22-cv-01564 (D.D.C., 18 Aug 2023)
Stephen Thaler, a computer scientist, filed suit against the United States Copyright Office, for denying his application to copyright an artwork created by DABUS, an artificial intelligence system that he built. The Copyright Office reasoning for denying his application was because it lacked “human authorship.” In their recent opinion Judge Beryl A. Howell, sided with the Copyright Office, stating that human authorship is the bedrock requirement of copyright. Read the opinion here.