Graffiti and copyright

September 9, 2015 Published by

You may remember Katy Perry wearing a Moschino-designed ‘graffiti’ dress at the Met Gala earlier this year?


Or maybe you remember Gigi Hadid wearing it at the 2015 Moschino runway show?


Last month, an American street artist known as ‘Rime’ (aka Joseph Tierney) filed a copyright infringement claim in a federal Californian court against both Moschino and designer of the dress Jeremy Scott. Tierney believes that the printed design on the dress is taken from his mural in Detroit entitled ‘Vandal Eyes.’

The basis for Tierney’s claim is that Moschino and Scott used his artwork without obtaining a license from him and without properly crediting him, particularly because of the high publicity the Met Gala and the Moschino runway show would have received. Tierney has been approached previously to have his work used under a licence by Disney, but has declined on numerous occasions. This would suggest that he doesn’t want to commercialise his IP, particularly with big corporations.

Whilst it must be noted that this lawsuit is presently occurring in America, Australia has specific laws regarding copyright in street art and graffiti. In Australia, it is generally held that if you are the artist who has created a work of street art, you are the copyright owner of the artwork in question. Artistic works are protected under Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (‘The Act’), so long as it is expressed in material form. Section 10 of The Act classifies ‘material form’ as ‘any form (whether visible or not) of storage of the work or adaptation, or a substantial part of the work or adaptation. ’Material form’ does extend to murals, graffiti, posters and tag, even though graffiti as an art form is generally transient in nature.

It is important to remember that if you take a photo of a graffiti artwork and use or modify commercially, you may be infringing the copyright and the moral rights of the graffiti artist. In these circumstances, licenses of the copyright in the image, as well as moral rights consents should be obtained. Additionally, street artists may also have a claim to moral rights over their work, specifically the right of attribution, that is, to have their name referenced anytime a substantial amount of their work is reproduced.

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