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Legal battle between graffiti artist and fashion label back on

Settlement collapses as discussions between Joseph Tierney, Moschino and creative director Jeremy Scott break down

The legal battle between the graffiti artist Joseph Tierney and the Italian fashion designer Moschino and its creative director Jeremy Scott is not over yet. A settlement reached between the parties in April has now fallen apart.

Tierney, who works under the alias Rime, says fashion label infringed his copyright when they incorporated his Vandal Eyes mural in Detroit in a number of garments, including a dress worn by Katy Perry at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Gala last year.

On 19 April the lawyers for Tierney and Moschino notified the federal court in California that they had reached an agreement in principle and expected to finalise their settlement within ten days. But the discussions broke down. According to court papers filed early in May, Tierney’s lawyers say Scott “torpedoed the settlement” with new demands.  

But Scott’s lawyers, in their papers, say the agreement was only between Tierney and Moschino; Scott did not sign “because he had not agreed to any settlement terms”. Moschino also accuses Tierney of “reneg[ing] on his agreement” to settle, and using his “failure to come to a separate agreement with Mr Scott” as an excuse.

With the settlement’s collapse, the court now must decide whether Tierney’s mural is entitled to copyright protection at all. In their summary judgment motion, the defendants say it was an act of vandalism and “it would make no sense to grant legal protection to work that is created… illegally.” Tierney, in his opposition papers, says he had permission to paint “Vandal Eyes” as part of a project to alleviate blight in Detroit.  Besides, he argues, copyright law doesn’t distinguish between art created by vandals and art created by others. “If there were a violation of law, there are… other means in our legal system to address it… and not compromise the workings of the copyright laws.”