Banksy’s legal problems: anonymous artist? No rights

November 18, 2020

The most famous writer in the world should reveal his identity to claim the copyright of his works

Until April 11, the Chiostro Del Bramante in Rome hosts Banksy - A visual Protest, the latest (obviously unauthorized) exhibition dedicated to the most famous street artist in the world - as well as the contemporary artist with the largest number of followers on the socials ever. Bramante’s early sixteenth-century architecture converses contrastingly with the over hundred works by the English artist who, in 2019, was deservedly included in ArtReview’s ranking of the hundred most influential personalities in the art world, in which he occupies the fourteenth place. The exhibition offers an opportunity to tackle some prickly problems that have been recently discussed by lawyers, judges and ministries dealing with cases related to SIAE rights. In mid-September, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) based in Spain permanently deprived Banksy of the brand of the Flower Launcher, the famous Molotov launcher that, instead of an incendiary bottle, is about to launch a flowers bouquet (this work appeared on a wall in Jerusalem, in 2005).

The exhibition in Rome at Chiostro del Bramante is an occasion to reflect on Banksy's work

It all started when, in 2014, the street artist registered the brand of this piece of graffiti with the European Union. In 2018, Full Color Black, a company that produces greeting cards, used Banksy’s image for a postcard; in no time, the faceless man reported them for copyright infringement. The problem is that, to take advantage of this right, you need to claim your artistic productions, and an Instagram post is not enough to do it. Until now, Instagram has been Banksy’s only authentication tool; he uses it as a shared archive, collective memory, and work in progress all at the same time. For the work to be officially recognized as his, Banksy needs to come out of anonymity and make the claim, a choice that would harm him much more than the improper and uncontrolled use of the image of his works.

The artist uselessly tried to bypass the existing legislation by registering the trademark of the work with the Pest Control Office, which manages his relations. The outcome was disastrous It is not the first time Banksy has been cornered by that same art system he tries to expose. Last year, on the occasion of Freeze, he inaugurated a store called Gross Domestic Product with the sole purpose of proving that, since it is used for commercial purposes, the Banksy brand cannot be taken over by third parties. For sure, this was not his first legal contrast and it certainly will not be the last. By the way, anyone who chooses to become a graffiti artist must be aware of the risks and dangers of this choice. 


The Author

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Cesare Orler firmly believes in the equivalence of art and life and would like to turn his life into a work of art, to paraphrase D'annunzio. He has a degree in Conservation of Cultural Heritage and Performing Arts Management, which he took in Venice, and is completing the master’s degree Programme in Contemporary Art History. He manages “Cesare's Corner", a TV broadcast on OrlerTV whose aim is to disseminate Contemporary Art. He closely follows emerging Italian artists and curates exhibitions and critical texts on them. He is a keen supporter of AW ArtMag. In addition to art, he also likes cinema and drinking beer, of which he is a refined connoisseur. Perhaps of all these things he can do well only the last one.

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