Copyright Landscape could change because of battle between Mercedes-Benz and Street Artists

10-09-2019 Print this page
IP10218 "A lawsuit involving a series of Detroit murals may define how much protection artists have if their work is in plain sight on the exterior of a building.




The luxury automaker in March sued four artists who saw a series of G Class truck Instagram ads that showed their work in the background and sent threat letters in response. Mercedes is asking the court for a declaration that it isn't copyright infringement either because the photos were a fair use of the art or because such a claim is precluded by the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act, a 1990 law that effectively limits copyright claims involving architecture to the functional design of the structure. [...]


Now, Mercedes is taking a legal turn that could effectively redraw copyright protection for street artists. In order to be protected by copyright, a work must be sufficiently original and fixed in a tangible medium. Here, that medium is the outside of several buildings. The works were created as part of the Murals in the Market Festival, which highlights Detroit's Eastern Market district. And Mercedes says they were created for a functional purpose: supporting the festival's mission of "increasing tourism, traffic, economic development, and safety in the Eastern Market. [...]


The artists' legal team is also challenging the luxury carmaker's lawsuits on procedural grounds, arguing the claims must dismissed because there are no registered copyrights for the works at issue and that's a prerequisite for such litigation. On that front, Mercedes argues its declaratory judgment claim is proper because the "threat of litigation creates a case or controversy, regardless of whether a copyright is registered."


A Michigan federal judge is set to hear their motions to dismiss on Monday afternoon."


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