New graffiti case hits BK court in wake of 5Pointz ruling

Case asks whether illegally painted mural deserves copyright protections

The mural at William Sheridan Playground (Credit: Lawsuit)
The mural at William Sheridan Playground (Credit: Lawsuit)

Brooklyn’s Federal District Court is becoming a haven for lawsuits about graffiti.

The court received a case last week that will ask whether an illegally painted mural deserves to be protected under federal copyright law, according to the New York Times. The case comes in the wake of a jury’s decision that the graffiti artists at 5Pointz in Long Island City were entitled to $6.7 million after developer Jerry Wolkoff whitewashed over their work.

The new case stems from a fashion shoot by clothing company H&M in Williamsburg’s William Sheridan Playground last year. The production firm they hired wanted to shoot at a handball court with graffiti and asked the city’s Parks and Recreation Department if they needed to pay royalties to use the graffiti. The department replied that they did not know who painted the mural and that it was not sanctioned by the city.

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H&M thus shot footage in front of it, and after artist Jason Williams saw it online, his lawyer Jeff Gluck sent a cease-and-desist letter to H&M claiming that they had used Williams’ work without his approval and threatening legal action.

H&M’s lawyers responded that they had done their due diligence and did not need Williams’ permission to use the graffiti since he had created it illegally. They recently filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare that they are free to use the mural and that Williams has no claims on it.

“Essentially what H&M is doing here is asking the court to declare that any and all unsanctioned or illegal art should be utterly devoid of copyright protection,” Williams’ lawyer Jeff Gluck told the Times. “It really is an assault on artists’ rights.” [NYT]Eddie Small