Street artist Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash from Exit Through the Gift Shop, is being sued for copyright infringement over an image of Run DMC. Guetta allegedly used a 1985 photo by photographer Glen Friedman in artworks, prints, promotional materials, even postcards, without paying any licensing fees. Guetta is claiming “fair use,” which would allow him to use the image for things like parody even though it’s copyrighted. So, this must be conclusive evidence that Mr. Brainwash actually exists, right? How do you sue a fictional character made up by Banksy?
This is the first time since Shepard Fairey’s tiff with the AP that the street art world has been shaken up by a copyright dispute. Which is logical enough, because street art in its purest form is found on the street and its artists are anonymous. But now that street artists are becoming mainstream and having gallery shows (like Mr. Brainwash, who according to Exit Through the Gift Shop burst onto the scene in 2008 with a massive show in L.A.), their appropriation of pop culture images could get them in trouble.
What makes it depressing is that the art in question isn’t really that good. It’s just that photo of Run DMC (which is a great photo) with a bunch of graffiti on it. At least in Shepard Fairey’s case, he turned a photo of Obama into an iconic image with artistic value. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how this one turns out and what repercussions it’ll have for street artists in the future.
Related: I was really hoping Mr. Brainwash wasn’t real. Too bad.