Art law News USA

Judge says Sid Vicious street art breaks copyright

Mr Brainwash works are "not transformative"

Dennis Morris's photograph of Sid Vicious, left, and Mr Brainwash's mural based on the image. Photo: Left, © Dennis Morris. All rights reserved. Right,

The Los Angeles-based street artist Thierry Guetta, better known as Mr Brainwash, has lost a copyright case involving a 1977 photograph of the punk rock musician Sid Vicious shot by the British photographer Dennis Morris. Guetta had claimed that the seven works he created using Morris’s black and white photograph, including one mural and one collage made of broken vinyl records, were sufficiently altered to be protected by the fair use defence, which allows for the use of copyrighted material for commentary, criticism and parody.

The federal judge rejected Guetta’s claim, saying that “most of [the] defendant’s works add certain new elements, but the overall effect of each is not transformative”. The judge also opposed the argument that “appropriation art per se” should be protected by fair use. As we went to press, the terms of the settlement, including unspecified damages, were being determined.

In 2011 Guetta lost a copyright case to Glen Friedman over his use of Friedman’s photograph of the rap group Run DMC, while last year the estate of the photographer Jim Marshall sued Guetta and Google for the unauthorised use of Marshall’s photographs of musicians. This case has not yet been decided and is due to go to trial in July.

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8 Jan 15
18:25 CET


"lost sight of the greater sense why we create art." Unfortunately, as long as we live in a capitalist society, artists will need to protect their profit making abilities. If the photographer can't control his work, he can't live off it. So he might have to get another job just to survive, and his photography suffers. Promoting the conditions of artistic creativity means two things: allowing for freedom of expression, of course, but ALSO, producing the economic circumstances conducive to creation. Welcome to capitalism.

8 May 13
15:19 CET


Hello to Toronto, while I agree that one should 'take a nod' from a fellow artist. However, if said fellow artist stands to profit handsomely from such heavy leaning on an original, the latter's motivation is other then purely 'artistic homage' eh?

7 May 13
16:29 CET


It looks like we have come to the age of not accepting the compliment of someone being inspired by our art and creating another form of it. Society is too focused on "This is Mine" and has lost sight of the greater sense of why we create art in the first place. Does ownership really meant that much to everyone? What about the bigger picture - the pure enjoyment of creation. How do you think Leonardo would feel about the abuse of his favourite portrait? Or Michelangelo about the twists numerous people have taken on his Creation of Adam? Relax people and enjoy sharing your art and creativity with the world. As far as I am concerned the mural was inspired by the photo - the artist is not claiming any rights to the original photo - just the inspiration it gave him.

6 May 13
18:47 CET


Mr. Guetta's art would have gotten zero recognition for his effort if he had not ridden on Dennis Morris' back and copied his work. There is nothing transformative in that mural.

1 May 13
15:8 CET


Bit of a slap in the face for lots of portrait artists. Food for thought: how to get around it?

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