Art law France

Abramovic wins two-year copyright battle

French court orders film-makers to pay €75,000 in damages to the artist for infringement of her rights

Abramovic’s "Balkan Baroque" on show at New York’s MoMA in 2010

PARIS. Performance art grande dame Marina Abramovic has won a two-year legal action against a French film-maker who committed copyright infringement by making two films, mainly based on her 1992 Biography piece, that misrepresented her work. Paris’s superior court also ruled that Abramovic is the “co-author” of the works in question—The Star (1998) and Balkan Baroque (1998)—which were directed by Pierre Coulibeuf and produced by Paris-based Regards Productions.

Coulibeuf and Regards Productions were ordered to pay Abramovic €50,000 damages for the infringement of her rights, and €25,000 “for damage [to] the integrity of her work”.

“Coulibeuf moved from a film-making role into the realm of an artist. He was not saying that the footage was taken from my films; he was calling it his own work of art,” Abramovic told The Art Newspaper.

The saga began in 1998 when Coulibeuf made The Star, a 58-minute film which, according to Chantal Delanoë, a producer at Regards Productions, “is an experimental fictional film in which Abramovic appears as an actress directed by Coulibeuf”. This work was inspired by Biography, as well as a selection of later performances by Abramovic dating from 1992-95, but the artist said that Coulibeuf ignored her instructions about the direction of the film. “This project did not aim to represent or reproduce Abram­ovic’s work but to create a cinematic universe relating to Abramovic’s life,” said Delanoë. A key issue for Regards Productions was whether Abram­ovic was considered an “actress” in or a co-author of the films.

The case centred on a contract agreed in 1998 between Abram­ovic and Regards Productions. “The problem is the terms of the contract signed by Abramovic,” commented Delanoë.

A previous court hearing in Holland in 1999 between the same parties ruled that Abram­ovic “transferred her rights regarding the production of both films” to the production ­company, claims Delanoë. A spokeswoman for the artist commented: “Marina lost her case in Amsterdam because she signed a contract that said Coulibeuf could use the material they made together in screenings.”

The French court focused on Balkan Baroque, which was released in cinemas in 1999, and adapted by Coulibeuf into a video installation of two moving images and a photograph. “Marina did not sign anything stating he could make installations or photographic or video editions of [this] work,” said Abramovic’s spokeswoman. “When Coulibeuf sold this piece to a Portuguese arts institution, Marina was able to bring this case.” Delanoë says that Balkan Baroque is in Lisbon’s Berardo Collection.

The court agreed the installation was shown without the artist’s knowledge, thereby resulting in an infringement of copyright. Abramovic also convinced the court that Balkan Baroque, the name of a 1997 work by her, was used without permission. However, Delanoë said the film and installation can still be shown on “the contemporary art network”, a claim strongly denied by Abramovic’s lawyer.

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