« Postal Stamp Infringement Valuation Determined | Main | Sorry For Partying, But It's Fair Use »

Week in Review

By Martha Nimmer

Graffiti or Aerosol Art?

G&M Realty, the development company hoping to turn a collection of warehouses in Long Island City into high rise apartment buildings, is being sued by the self-proclaimed "aerosol artists" who tagged the buildings known as "5Pointz." Just yesterday, the New York City Council unanimously approved a $400 million development plan for the site. In response, the artists have gone to court, asserting their copyright interests in the endangered works.

Graffiti artist and lead plaintiff Jonathan Cohen claims that the property owner, Gerald Wolkoff, has allowed graffiti artists to tag the buildings since 1993. Cohen, who tags under the name Meres One, also clams that Wolkoff granted him "full authority" to determine what could be spray painted at 5Pointz, even giving the aerosol artists keys to the buildings and space to store spray paint, ladders and other supplies. What developed from that arrangement was a "graffiti mecca," featuring over 350 works by graffiti artists. According to the lawsuit, "hundreds of tourists" from around the world visit the site every week.

Now, however, it appears that 5Pointz's days are numbered: the buildings are slated to be knocked down to make room for a 1,000 unit luxury apartment complex. Fearing the destruction of their works, the artists have sued, seeking to exercise their copyright ownership rights over the tagged interiors and facades of the 5Pointz buildings.

Cohen says that he has applied for copyright registration for several of his paintings, adding that removing them from 5Pointz would cause their "destruction, distortion, mutilation or modification."

Applying traditional copyright law to what some observers would dismiss as mere graffiti, or a public nuisance, will be no easy task, however: the plaintiffs will have to "elevate the perception of their art form from just simply graffiti to legitimate 'works of visual art' in need of protection from demolition." To convince a court that their works deserve protection from a real estate developer's wrecking ball, the plaintiffs highlighted in their suit the notoriety and popularity of the site as a tourist destination, adding that "because of its stature in the international art community and its high visibility, having a work of visual art accepted and displayed on 5Pointz adds considerable prestige to an artist's reputation. For aspiring aerosol artists, having a work of visual art accepted and displayed on 5Pointz is guaranteed to raise their profile and enhance their credibility in the art world." Essentially, the plaintiffs argue, the acclaim and prestige that 5Pointz enjoys among some members of the art world have turned "mere graffiti" at the site to works of art that are deserving of copyright protection. Ultimately, the artists aver that destroying their works would cause "irreparable harm, and that "each of the plaintiffs has the right to prevent such destruction, distortion, mutilation or modification of his or her works of visual art for a term consisting of the duration of his or her life."

The plaintiffs seek an injunction barring defendants from destroying their art.


The Singer and the Civil RIghts Leader

Famed singer and entertainer Harry Belafonte has sued the estate of longtime friend Martin Luther King, Jr. The suit, filed earlier this week in Manhattan federal court, seeks damages of an unspecified amount and a declaration that Belafonte is the rightful owner of three documents that he tried to sell at auction in 2008. One of the documents is an outline for the civil rights leader's 1967 speech "The Casualties of the War in Vietnam," written on a legal pad by Dr. King during a visit to Belafonte's New York apartment. The second document at issue is a condolence letter from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Mrs. King, received shortly after her husband's assassination in 1968. The third document is an envelope that Dr. King carried in his pocket the day he was assassinated. According to The New York Times, Dr. King had written notes on the envelope for a speech that he was to have given in Memphis. In his suit, Belafonte claims that the three documents were given to him by Dr. King, by his widow, Coretta Scott King, and by Dr. King's aide, Stanley Levison.

Belafonte attempted to auction the items at Sotheby's in December 2008 to raise money for Barrios Unidos, a charity that works with street gangs. Before the sale could occur, however, Dr. King's estate challenged Belafonte's ownership of the papers, alleging in a letter to Sotheby's "they are 'part of a wrongfully acquired collection.'" After receiving the letter from the King estate, Sotheby's removed the documents from the auction catalogue and put them in a storage vault, where they have remained since December 2008. As the The New York Times notes, "[u]nder state law, Sotheby's faces liability to the actual owner if it releases property to the wrong party, and so has refused to return the documents to Mr. Belafonte until the dispute is settled."



Cuban Cleared

Following a two week trial, a Texas jury has cleared Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of insider trading. Cuban was charged with insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after allegedly "trading on non-public information when he sold his 600,000 shares in Internet search company Mamma.com - worth $7.9 million - and avoided a $750,000 loss," writes Reuters.

The SEC brought its civil lawsuit against Cuban in November 2008; the suit, however, was dismissed in 2009, only to be revived the following year by an appeals court. Despite advice from his attorneys, Cuban refused to settle the case and decided to go to trial, even though, he claims, his attorneys' fees have exceeded the possible fines for admitting to insider trading. He could have faced up to $2 million in fines, according to his attorneys. "It's personal. You take all these years of my life, it's personal," an angry Cuban remarked.

At trial, federal prosecutors claimed that Cuban sold his stake in Mamma.com soon after learning from the company's Chief Executive, Guy Faure, that the company was "planning a private placement that would dilute his holdings in the company." Shares in the Montreal-based company ended up plummeting 9.3% the morning after the offering was announced. Cuban, however, had already sold his shares, raising red flags for the SEC. Cuban, who sold his company Broadcast.com to Yahoo in 1999 for $5.7 billion dollars, testified that there were many innocuous reasons for selling his shares, "including the private placement and Mamma.com's possible association with a known stock swindler." Counsel for Cuban also suggested "that word of the private placement had leaked into the market because potential investors were being contacted to participate in the private placement," according to Reuters.

At a press conference following the jury's verdict, Cuban expressed relief that the case was over, and took the opportunity to lambaste the SEC. "Jan Folena, who represents the United States of America, stood up there and lied . . . I'm the luckiest guy in the world and I'm glad I could stand up to them," he said.

Now that the suit has concluded, Cuban can stop yelling at the SEC and get back to screaming from the stands at the Mavericks.


Refusing to Settle

A group of former NFL players is set to oppose the NFL's image rights settlement, initially approved in April by U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson. On the line is a $50 million settlement in the 2009 lawsuit against the League. Players alleged in the 2009 suit that the NFL profited from using their images without permission. The agreement would create an agency that would be charged with managing former player image licensing. The League would also pay a whopping $42 million into a fund administered by NFL retirees for their peers. Another $8 million would be paid by the NFL to help cover the plaintiffs' legal expenses.

Part of the settlement agreement, and the factor leading some former NFL players to oppose the deal, is that retirees from the game receive no individual payout or benefit from the league. Dan Gustafson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, defended the settlement: "[t]he settlement's combination of the Common Good Fund and the Licensing Agency thoughtfully addresses the interests of all class members, not just those who may have more valuable claims, but also those whose claims -- although less valuable -- may have greater individual needs." Additionally, Gustafson said, settling with the League prevents the plaintiffs from being subjected to a long, drawn-out trial, where the outcome could come out in the NFL's favor. Former New York Jets defensive linemen Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam, among others, oppose the accord. Their attorney has asked Judge Magnuson for permission to argue at the hearing, which is scheduled to take place today in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 18, 2013 3:03 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Postal Stamp Infringement Valuation Determined.

The next post in this blog is Sorry For Partying, But It's Fair Use.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.