Graffiti artist Banksy has accused clothing retailer Guess of stealing his work for a window display. The Guess Regent Street location in London “stole” his “Flower Thrower” piece. So, he’s calling for fans to steal from them.
The artist, who likes to remain anonymous, called out the brand in a social media post. “Attention all shoplifters Please go to Guess on Regent Street,” Banksy said to his 11.5 million followers on Instagram. “They’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?”
In response, the store closed, and covered up the window display. But here is where it gets weird, Guess may have had the rights to this all along. This display was to advertise its new line done in collaboration with Brandalised. Brandalised has, in what Guess called “an urban graffiti license whose mission is to offer Banksy fans affordable graffiti collectibles.” The line even has “with graffiti by Banksy” written on it. So it’s not like they are trying to cover up whose work it is.
Andrew Gallagher, owner of Brandalised, has been battling with licensing for Banksy’s work for some time. Gallagher also owns the greeting card company Full Colour Black. He currently has two ongoing EU disputes with the street artist over licensing/selling images of Banksy’s work without permission. In 2014, Pest Control Office, the official body which acts on behalf of Banksy and authenticates his work, successfully applied for an EU trademark of the “Flower Thrower” piece.
Then in March 2019, Full Colour Black started an invalidity action in an attempt to cancel the EU trademark. Gallagher’s company claims Banksy must copyright his work instead of registering trademarks to incorporate them. This caused Banksy’s trademark ruling for “Flower Thrower” to be upturned in 2020.
Banksy has flat-out said “copyright is for losers.” There is also the fact that getting a copyright would mean he’d have to reveal his identity to Pest Control and the EU. Since copyrights exist to protect the rights of creators of artistic and literary works. While trademark is to protect a company’s name, brand identity, and product names.
It took the EU a year and a half to rule on these claims. In that time Banksy set up a brick-and-mortar pop-up shop called Gross Domestic Product, solely to push the trademark case into the public’s radar. In typical Banksy fashion the shop only displayed items in the storefront and never opened its doors, its sales were done online. Banksy said this was “possibly the least poetic reason to ever make some art.”
“A greetings card company is contesting the trademark I hold to my art and attempting to take custody of my name so they can sell their fake Banksy merchandise legally,” the artist said in a statement. But in September 2020, the EU Intellectual Property office panel ruled that he could not be identified as the unquestionable owner of this work. Also pointing out that the pop-up shop simply wasn’t enough to show true intention for the trademark.
This is the second time Full Color Black cost Banksy a trademark. In November 2018, they filed against Banksy’s trademark on his “Laugh Now” piece. Claiming that the trademark was filed in bad faith and that it was non-distinctive. In May 2021, this claim did temporarily lose him the trademark for the work. On November 15, 2022 he was not able to successfully appeal that decision. The courts said that Full Colour Black failed to prove the trademark was filed in bad faith.
With all this legal drama there is not telling how this will play out. Stay tuned to Nerdbot for updates on this situation as they develop.