Banksy is a world wide famous, anonymous British graffiti artist known for his anti-authoritarian and provocative art, often done in public places. It’s estimated his net worth is around $20 million with many of his pieces selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to a few million.
Part of the allure of Banksy is his anonymity and for decades people have speculated as to who is behind the famous Banksy artworks. Erasing the aura of mystery around his identity could potentially impact the commercial value of his art.⠀
In the past Banksy has often relied on trade mark law rather than copyright law for protection of his artwork. Some critics believe the reason he does this is to keep his identity anonymous, however, his most recent legal case has some media publications believing his identity has finally been revealed.
Let’s take a look at Banksy’s legal disputes over the years (most of which are with a greetings card company):
In 2018, Banksy sued an Italian museum for trade mark infringement that had organised an unauthorised exhibition, which included the sale of merchandise reproducing his branded art.
An Italian court ruled in Banksy’s favour, agreeing that the organisers of the event should stop their distribution of unauthorised merchandise. However, the court allowed the use of Banksy’s logo on materials that promoted the event saying it was necessary to inform the public.
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Notable mention for this year; when Banksy’s ‘Girl With Balloon’ artwork sold at auction, it self destructed once the hammer fell (we’d love to know what the Terms & Conditions were for purchasing a $1.8 million artwork that self destructed once the hammer fell).
While there was speculation around this, Banksy said the auction house Sotheby’s and the buyer had no idea about the prank, marking a significant event in art history. The artwork later sold for a huge sum of $25.4 million.
In October 2019, Banksy opened up a homewares shop in London named “Gross Domestic Product,” for sale of ‘impractical and offensive’ merchandise, following a legal dispute with a greetings card company.⠀
The greetings card company, Full Colour Black, started an invalidity action to cancel an EU trade mark based on Banksy’s iconic mural ‘Flower Thrower’ claiming that he doesn’t use his trade mark/s appropriately to hold trade mark protection. The trade mark was formally registered by Pest Control, the official body which authenticates Banksy’s art and acts on behalf of the artist.⠀
Banksy said in a statement that the reason for opening a merchandise store (for online sales only, no one can enter the shop) was “possibly the least poetic reason to ever make some art. A greetings card company is contesting the trade mark I hold to my art. And attempting to take custody of my name so they can sell their fake Banksy merchandise legally.”⠀
His store was set to sell items including disco balls made from police riot helmets as well as a toddler’s counting toy where children are encouraged to load wooden migrant figures into a haulage truck.⠀
The Guardian at the time quoted Mark Stephens, an arts lawyer and founder of the Design and Artists Copyright Society, as saying “Banksy is in a difficult position. Because he doesn’t produce his own range of shoddy merchandise and the law is quite clear – if the trade mark holder is not using the mark, then it can be transferred to someone who will.”⠀
In 2021, the EU Intellectual Property Office declared four of Banky’s trade marks invalid – the second time it had done so – accusing the artist of acting in “bad faith” by trying to hide his identity but also assert ownership of intellectual property.
In Banksy’s book ‘Wall and Piece’, he famously declared; “Copyright is for losers,” and that the public was morally and legally free to reproduce and use any public copyright works. Banksy did argue in court, however, that his comments that copyright was for losers “was clearly ironic as it was accompanied by both a copyright and trade mark symbol. It did not encourage slavish commercial copying.”
The EU Intellectual Property Office’s decision to invalidate Banksy’s trade marks came as a huge blow, paving the way for the greetings card company Full Colour Black to use his trade marks.
However, in 2022 a European Union board of appeals overruled a decision by the EU’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) with Banksy able to maintain ownership of his trade marks and most of all his anonymity. Read more here.
Banksy’s most recent legal dispute is once again with Full Colour Black, this time as a defamation case.
The parties named are event planner Andrew Gallagher (from Full Colour Black Ltd) and Banksy’s company Pest Control Limited with a co-defendant listed as Robin Gunningham – who people believe is Banksy.
The social media post in question is from November 2022 and features an image of Banksy’s ‘Flower Bomber’ work in the Regent Street Guess shop window.
The Instagram post was accompanied by the caption: “Alerting all shoplifters. Please go to GUESS on Regent Street. They’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?”
The image shows the shop window advertising “Graffiti by Banksy”, together with the logos of the fashion store and Mr Gallagher’s trade marked ‘Brandalised’ name.
Full Colour Black Ltd is suing for £1,357,086 in alleged losses, claiming the Instagram post caused “serious harm” and “serious financial loss”.
It is argued viewers of the post among Banksy’s 11.9 million followers would have been led to believe that the company “had stolen Banksy’s artwork by licensing images to GUESS without permission or other legal authority”, a suggestion it argues is defamatory.
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