Street artist Thierry Guetta faces copyright infringement suit


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Los Angeles street artist Thierry Guetta rose to prominence recently in the Oscar-nominated documentary ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ in which he is featured at length along with the artist known as Banksy. Now Guetta is facing the downside of fame in an unrelated lawsuit in which he is accused of copyright infringement.

Guetta -- who goes by the moniker Mr. Brainwash -- is being accused of improperly using a photograph of the rap group Run-DMC in various works of art. The photographer, Glen Friedman, is suing Guetta in Los Angeles for copyright infringement and is seeking unspecified damages. Friedman, based in New York, is a prominent photographer who has focused on music groups and skateboarder culture throughout his career.


The photograph in question depicts members of the rap group Run-DMC in 1985 in Queens, N.Y. In court papers, Friedman contends that his photograph is protected by law because it is featured in one of his books, titled ‘... You Heroes,’ published in 1994, that is copyrighted.

He is accusing Guetta of improperly using the photograph in various works of art, some of which were featured in his 2008 exhibition titled ‘Life is Beautiful,’ which took place at an art space in L.A. In addition, the photographer alleges that Guetta profited from the artworks and that the image was distributed in acts of ‘widespread self-promotion’ that involved posters and other advertising activity.

Guetta responded in court papers that his actions are protected by fair-use laws and qualify as acts of free speech. Some of Guetta’s creations, as shown in court filings, feature the likenesses from Friedman’s photograph embellished with graffiti and other forms of colorful markings.

Friedman’s attorney, Douglas Linde, said in an interview that Guetta is a ‘blatant plagiarist.’ The artist’s lawyer, Alan Gutman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The suit, which was reported in the Art Newspaper, has been slowly working its way through the legal system since late 2009. A trial date is set for later this year, according to court papers.


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-- David Ng