A bitter legal battle between the graffiti artist Joseph Tierney, also known as Rime, and the Italian fashion designer Moschino and its creative director Jeremy Scott looks as if it will be settled out of court. Both parties have reached an agreement in principle and expect to file a dismissal within ten days, according to court papers filed on 19 April.
The Californian court was notified of the settlement one day after Moschino and Scott filed to have the Brooklyn-based artist’s case dismissed, arguing that the work at the centre of the row was an act of vandalism and should not be protected by copyright law. “As a matter of public policy and basic logic, it would make no sense to grant legal protection to work that is created entirely illegally,” they say.
Tierney sued Moschino and Scott last August, a few months after Katy Perry attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala wearing a dress the artist claimed incorporated his work without permission. Scott also attended the event in a similarly designed suit. Tierney said his credibility as a graffiti artist “was compromised by [the] inclusion in such a crass and commercial publicity stunt”. He also alleged his graffiti tag was reproduced by Moschino on a number of garments, but Scott claimed he did not design the graphics.
The graffiti in question, Vandal Eyes, had been painted on the side of a building in Detroit in 2012. Tierney claimed he had permission to create the mural, but in their motion to dismiss the case, Moschino and Scott described Tierney as an “unabashed felon” who had painted the work illegally.
Lawyers representing the defendants also referred to one of the most notorious unsolved crimes in Los Angeles, the so-called Black Dahlia murder in 1947, to illustrate their copyright argument. “When photographs of the killer’s criminal handiwork were distributed by police and media, could the Black Dahlia’s killer sue them for copyright infringement? In a word: no.”
With the case being settled out of court, the question of whether graffiti should be protected by copyright law in the US—as is the case in Australia—looks like it will remain unanswered. Neither the lawyers representing Tierney nor those acting for Moschino and Scott could be reached for comment.