Updated: Jul 4
A new copyright infringement case is in the ad news. Artist Ai Weiwei is suing Volkswagen over the use of his artwork in VW’s, Polo campaign back in October 2017.
Ai Weiwei’s “Soleil Levant”, which he created for World Refugee Day, is made of over 3,500 lifejackets used by refugees who fled to Lesvos, Greece, escaping persecution and conflict. From a BA perspective, I am curious to understand the events that took place that lead to this use and alleged copyright infringement. Was there no legal or BA involved? Did the client decide to take a risk or did someone simply overlook that this was art?
Business Affairs often gets pushback from creative and brand teams not understanding why someone may not want to give consent for use of their art in an advertisement. The question always comes up, “What’s the worst that can happen… a cease and desist?” Though that’s sometimes the case, it isn't always, and understandably so. Sometimes the reason is bigger than anyone can imagine or anticipate.
Ai WeiWei summed it up best himself from an artist’s point of view:
“As an artist, I face serious consequences for this misuse of my art. The advertisement gives the false impression that I have given permission for my work about refugees to sell Volkswagen’s cars. This misrepresentation severely damages my artistic reputation and a lifetime of work defending human rights.
Consistency and integrity are important qualities for an artist’s credibility. This wrongdoing compromises my credibility, and could easily destroy the trust I have built up with the refugees I work to support. Why should refugees choose to associate with me if they believe that I would exploit their plight for commercial profit?”
VW has admitted its mistake, however, the parties have not been able to come to an agreement in the past year, so they are going to court. The first hearing was held last Wednesday (5/22/19). I am curious to see how this one plays out, and the potential ramifications. Check out Ai Weiwei’s own article in The Guardian. I’m curious to hear what everyone else thinks of this as well!