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Banksy and Illegal Work Protected by Law

Words:

Edd Norval

Photos:

Banksy©
March 7, 2019

Banksy would be a coup for the police. The public would know his identity and his ever-increasing rap sheet would finally be meted out. Despite this, Banksy's recent court case actually didn't go against him, but for, in a copyright scandal that shows attitudes are turning within and towards the street art world.

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We all know that Banksy functions in a legal grey area. While the act itself is illegal, his reputation and subsequent value means that his works are often protected in an official capacity. A wall worth little more than the brick and mortar of its raw materials suddenly becomes a canvas displaying the world-famous artists' work.


It's still illegal though, that's the bottom line. But in a unique turn of events, the artist was recently the subject of a court appearance, only he wasn't the one facing a charge. The artist accused an Italian museum of profiting from his name through merchandise sales, breaching copyright. He won.


What does this say about the law? the artist? Firstly, it shows that the artists' rights have been protected, regardless of pending charges. This is testament to a system built on strong principles. Ironically, these are principles that Banksy used to rage against, once branding copyright as being "for losers". Is this a change in the artists' attitude?

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Milan's Mudec Museum has come under fire after their exhibition 'The Art of Banksy - A Visual Protest' was viewed to be breaching copyright by selling unauthorised merchandise. Although the artist has every right to press charges, as he has successfully done, many view it as 'selling out'.


It stands to reason that it's a difficult ethical and moral position to be in, straddling legal and illegal - one that many similar artists struggle with. Banksy, the biggest name in street art, is bound to draw more attention to himself and to the art movement regarding these issues.


Once, in its graffiti form, a true voice of protest, street art first became a buzzword in creative circles before eventually becoming a part of the corporate machine itself, with major artists collaborating with large, often unethical, brands. This incident seems like a zenith for the crossover between accepted and not for the artist though. Known for lampooning private ownership, Banksy now wants to protect his own financial interests from others.

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Through Banksy's authentication service 'Pest Control', the artist and his legal team tackled the museum in a case in Italy where organisers were provisionally told in January to stop selling diaries, erasers, notepads and postcards incorporating the artists' works, despite the exhibition itself only including authentic prints or original artworks from the artist.


Artists and those working in creative fields work hard to get their work out there and the English artist has long been tolerant of others copying his work, even going so far as to encourage and satirise the phenomenon. But has the artist lodged the action purely selfishly? Is the internet's baying mob responding too harshly?


The other side of the coin is that the artist has behaved in a way so as to empower other artists to take a similar stand against people that should know better, that have enough funding/capital and should be respecting their work.


The judge ruled evidence sufficient but shaky and moving forward, the artist will be forced to prove his brands worth in the market. To do so, he may have to produce his own official merchandise to highlight the value and demand for his products. Counter to Banksy's artistic philosophy and anti-capitalistic message, such a move would likely further polarise the street art and art worlds. Without doing so, his evidence in future trials may prove too weak to mandate his copyright claims.


Street art has gone through many changes, weaving between different worlds, but this one is perhaps the most important in a long time and shares many similarities with music streaming services as those began to emerge. Banksy is walking a tightrope between profit and principle. One would imagine though that there will be more twists before the story is settled.

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