Artwork saved from transmogrification today by "moral rights"

  • 2 mins read

Danish watch-maker Kanske purchased a colourful painting "Paris Chic" at auction for £70,000.  Their intention was to cut it into around 2500 small pieces, each piece uniquely becoming the face of a limited-edition luxury watch.  

Timepiece connoisseurs will have wait.

The artist of the painting, Tal R, has brought a court-case in Denmark to prevent this from happening, and has has today successfully secured an injunction, preventing Kanske from going ahead with their plans.

This is possible because even though the artist sold the painting to Kanske, European copyright laws provide "moral rights" that can be brought into play when the reputation of an artist is likely to suffer.  

As an artist, you have the right to prevent damage to your reputation if this is caused by derogatory treatment of your creation.  This doesn't cover destruction, but does include what I've called "transmogrification" - an inappropriate alteration of the copyrighted work.

The strength and application of such moral rights vary from country to country.  In most of continental Europe, moral rights are "inalienable" - i.e. they cannot be transferred away from an artist or author of a work.  Thus, they stay with the artist - even after the artist has sold the artwork.   

In territories like the US, moral rights all but do not exist, the rights under copyright law being tied to purely economic factors.  In the UK, moral rights exist, but they can be waived, and also they must be asserted if an artist or author wishes to rely on them.  So this case could have been decided quite differently in the US or the UK.  Advice from a local intellectual property specialist is recommended.

Of course, as an aside, here in the UK we have artists like Banksy that may have assisted with the transmogrification process:

A further court case will be necessary to determine the ultimate fate of the painting, but exactly what happens next is up to Tal R.   

I came across a study that seemed to show that artists who are at all willing to trade their integrity rights tend to ask for significant extra financial compensation - between two to five times the economic value of the artwork.  Perhaps an agreement will be reached?

Will Tal R be willing to give up his moral rights to let the watches be manufactured?  

Only time will tell.


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