Tag Archives: art theft

Kate Sutherland

Roundup of News & Reviews, September 5-11, 2011

Below is a selection of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A U.S. district court has allowed a lawsuit brought against Hungary and its museums by the heirs of art collector Baron Mor Lipot Herzog to proceed. Herzog’s heirs brought the suit after unsuccessfully petitioning the Hungarian government for the return of art, collectively valued at more than $100 million, “most of which has been hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary” (NYT). Hungary argued that it was entitled to immunity under the United States Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but the court was not convinced. The lawsuit seeks the “the return of more than 40 artworks including paintings, sculptures and other works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zubarán, van Dyck, Velázquez and Monet,” and “an accounting of all art from the Herzog family in its possession” (NYT). (Sources: New York Times, Clancco, Reuters, Hungary on Trial)

A California court has denied Madonna’s bid to have a trademark case against her over her Material Girl clothing line thrown out. Retailer LA Triumph claims it has been using the name for a clothing line since 1997 and that it owns the trademark. Madonna argues that her use dates back farther to her 1985 hit song. But the court concluded that Madonna’s argument was an insufficient basis for the summary judgment that she sought: “This Court and other courts have recognized that the singing of a song does not create a trademark.” Thus the case will continue on to trial. (Sources: Hollywood Reporter, BBC)

A Paris court has found that television newsreader Patrick Poivre d’Arvor breached the privacy of a former lover through his undisguised portrait of her in a 2009 novel Fragments of a Lost Woman. In addition to many details drawn from her life, the book included virtual word-for-word copies of eleven letters that she had written to him. Poivre d’Arvor argued that the book was a work of fiction based on his “numerous female conquests,” but the court was not persuaded, concluding: “The literary procedures used do not allow the reader to differentiate the characters from reality, such that the work cannot be qualified as fictional.” The court imposed a fine and a ban on reprinting of the novel. (Source: Telegraph)

Matthew Jones, author of the screenplay for Boot Tracks and the novel upon which it was based, is suing the director and producers of the film. He claims that they made unauthorized changes to the script which constitute a breach of an option agreement. His complaint reads in part: “Defendant Jacobson and Rattner promised that the screenplay would not be changed, that they understood the unique artistic integrity of the screenplay and that if changes did have to be made in order to secure financing that plaintiff would be the only one allowed to make said changes, which would be consistent with the authenticity of the novel.” In addition to breach of contract, Jones alleges copyright infringement and fraud. He is seeking damages and an injunction to prevent release of the film. (Source: Courthouse News, Hat tip: @Copycense)

Prompted by the impending release of an eagerly anticipated new film adaptation of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Gary Oldman playing the role of George Smiley, Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the best British spy novels. Click here to see his list and assess his choices. Has he left out any must-reads?

In an interview with the Guardian, A.D. Miller discusses his Booker-shortlisted novel Snowdrops which features as its narrator “a lonely, drifting, 30something expat lawyer, living in Moscow during the few-questions-asked oil boom.” Definitely one that I’m keen to read.

German lawyer and author Ferdinand von Schirach has garnered high praise for short stories based on his criminal defense work. But in his latest work of fiction, he has turned to the past, tackling his fraught family history. The soon to be published novel, Der Fall Collini, includes a character based on his grandfather who was leader of the Hitler Youth and ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. The Guardian quotes from an interview that von Schirach did with Focus magazine: “If you grow up with a name like mine, by the time you are 15 or 16 at the latest, you have to ask yourself some basic questions and come up with some very basic answers that you can live with. It’s your responsibility.” His grappling with these questions through the medium of fiction will doubtless make for though-provoking reading. I don’t know when an English translation is due to be published, but I will certainly be watching for it.

Reviewer Joanna Hines is pleased to have discovered in Death in August, the first installment in a mystery series by Marco Vichi set in 1960s Florence, a new detective (Inspector Bordelli) “whose company will be an enduring pleasure.” She pronounces the book: “A real find for anyone who likes their crime novels atmospheric, discursive, humorous and thought-provoking.” Sounds very promising. (The Guardian)

Kate Sutherland

Roundup of News & Reviews, June 1-12, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that have caught my attention so far this month.

A group of origami artists is suing Sarah Morris claiming that her series of paintings based on origami crease patterns constitute copyright infringement. The suit was launched in U.S. federal court in April, but it received fresh attention this week with an article in the Guardian and posts on a number of IP and art law blogs (The 1709 Blog, Art and Artifice). The Guardian reports that the plaintiffs allege “Morris copied their origami crease patterns, changed the colour scheme and then sold and exhibited the works without obtaining permission and crediting them,” and that she has thereby “‘created confusion’ over the authorship of their designs and damaged their professional reputations.” Morris is expected to base her defense on fair use. Her lawyer is reported to have told the Art Newspaper: “It’s hard to imagine a clearer use of transformative fair use.” Click here to see excerpts from the complaint including several exhibits that set the plaintiffs’ crease patterns alongside Morris’s paintings (as in the illustration above).

Two years ago, the unveiling of a previously unknown collection of paintings, drawings, letters, and ephemera purported to be the work of Frida Kahlo was met with charges that “all of the documents and works in [the collection] are fakes.” Now, the L.A. Times reports that in a decision rendered last year but only reported last week, “a Mexican court has ruled that opponents have failed to prove their claim that the collection is bogus.” This ruling does not establish the authenticity of the collection, but it paved the way for its owners to “[file] ownership papers or the material […] with Mexico’s Public Registry of Copyrights” and to begin to “[consider] exhibition options.”

A California federal judge has decided in favour of photographer Glen E. Friedman in his copyright suit against Thierry Guetta (“Mr. Brainwash”). Guetta argued that his work based on Friedman’s iconic photo of rap group Run DMC did not constitute infringement because Friedman’s photograph was not sufficiently original to merit copyright protection or, alternatively, that he had altered it sufficiently for his work to be considered fair use. The judge rejected both arguments and granted Friedman’s motion for summary judgment. Some commentators have expressed concern that, hot on the heels of the Richard Prince decision, this outcome is a further blow to appropriation art. (Hollywood Reporter, Media Bistro, LA Weekly)

The New York Times reports that last week a U.S. federal appeals court denied the claim of an innocent buyer of a stolen Pissarro print that she ought not to have to forfeit the work. She purchased it twenty-five years ago from a San Antonio art gallery and did not learn until she tried to sell it through Sotheby’s in 2003 that it had been reported stolen thirty years previously from a museum in Aix-les-Bains, France. The U.S. government promptly “seized the print as contraband.” In the wake of the court’s upholding of that action paired with its determination that the buyer could not recover her legal fees, she ruefully observes that her “$100,000 asset [has] turned into a $100,000 liability.”

In the Observer, Rory Mulholland notes the proliferation of protest art on the walls of the rebel-held cities of Libya. He finds the multitude of caricatures of Muammar Gaddafi, “whose many eccentricities make him a perfect target for satire,” to be “the most striking manifestation of the new-found freedom of expression” in those regions. Click here to see a slide show of some of the images that Mulholland captured on film.

Joan Jett and Cherie Currie have filed suit in a New York court in an attempt to stop the release of a tribute album featuring contemporary cover versions of the songs of their 1970s band The Runaways. In the Hollywood Reporter, Eriq Gardner sums up the basis for the suit as follows: “Typically, when cover songs are recorded, mechanical license royalty rates apply. No permission is required. However, in this unusual situation, Jett and Currie are claiming that the project is a violation of their likenesses, and that the record label is using their famous names to market the album.”

Christophe Maillet, owner of a Doors-themed Paris Bar called The Lezard King, has received a letter from the band’s lawyer threatening legal action if he doesn’t change the name of the bar and remove all images of the band from the premises within the next three months. The letter warns: “”The Doors do not want to be seen as having approved of your establishment and also the consumption of alcohol.” Maillet, a life-long Doors fan who personally collected the memorabilia over the past twenty-five years that constitutes the bar’s decor, “doesn’t know what could happen if the legal action goes ahead” but fears that the “worst-case scenario is that they could close the bar.” (Associated Press)

The family of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda maintains that he died of cancer in 1973 at the age of 69. But following allegations that he was, in fact, poisoned at the behest of General Pinochet, a Chilean judge has ordered an investigation into his death. (BBC, NPR)

As part of its coverage of the Hay festival, the Telegraph has published a wonderful series of articles in which writers pay tribute to their “heroes of free speech.” Click on the following writers’ names to learn about theirs: Javier Cercas, Kishwar Desai, Héctor Abad Faciolince, Helena Kennedy, Youssef Rakha, and Elif Shafak.

Katherine A. Power has high praise for Mary Doria Russell’s historical western, Doc: “This extraordinary novel, whose central figure is John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday, is both a work of reclamation of the man from his legend as a coldblooded killer and an inspired evocation of a mythic quintessence.” (Salon)

In the Daily Beast, David Goodwillie interviews police detective Edward Conlon about his novel Red on Red. Given Conlon’s line of work and the critical acclaim of his memoir, Blue Blood, it is perhaps unsurprising that his novel is garnering praise for its authentic portrayal of detective work and of police partnerships. “Conlon’s colorful world exists under a gray and pressing sky of authenticity that not even the most research-addicted crime novelists could recreate,” Goodwillie writes. He continues: “At the same time, Red on Red offers Conlon his first opportunity to move past the factual restrictions of non-fiction, and he doesn’t disappoint.” It sounds like it’s well worth a look.

“Where better to set a noir police procedural than in streets awash in uncollected trash, against a backdrop of smoke rising from Vesuvius?” asks Hallie Ephron. She concludes that with These Dark Things, the first installment in a series featuring Captain Natalia Monte of the Naples Carabinieri, Jan Meret Weiss lays claim to that city as decisively as Donna Leon has to Venice. I’ve just finished reading These Dark Things myself and can attest that Natalia Monte is a most intriguing character and that Naples is very vividly evoked⎯a promising start to a new series. (Boston Globe)