How Street Artist Banksy Lost Four Trademarks
Britain’s most famous and mysterious street artist recently suffered four trademark losses. The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) panel said it cancelled the applications because the artist refuses to reveal his identity.
These four trademarks represent some of Banksy’s most iconic murals: Love is in the Air, Radar Rat, Girl with an Umbrella and Laugh Now. Not owning these trademarks means that other people and corporations can use Banksy’s artworks for profit.
Banksy vs. Full Colour Black
Last September 2020, the anonymous artist lost a trademark battle against Full Colour Black, a British greeting card company specialising in graffiti-based cards. The dispute was over Banksy’s Love is in the Air artwork, which shows a masked protestor throwing a bouquet. This piece originally appeared on a wall in Bethlehem in 2005.
Full Colour Black argued that it should have the right to use the Love is in the Air image on its cards since the artist is anonymous anyway. The greeting card brand sought to have more of Banksy’s trademarks cancelled, namely the Radar Rat, Laugh Now, Girl with an Umbrella and Bomb Hugger.
According to Full Colour Black, these famous art pieces have already been featured in many posters, graphic works and merchandise – but never by Banksy himself. The greeting card company further argued that Banksy’s works are ‘a work of graffiti sprayed in a public place’, so they can easily be photographed and imitated.
The EUIPO’s Decision
The EUIPO ruled against the anti-authoritarian artist because he wants to remain anonymous and, therefore cannot be identified as the indisputable owner of his works. The panel added that Banksy mostly paints graffiti on other people’s property and never on canvases or his own property.
Additionally, Banksy once said ‘copyright is for losers’ in his book, Wall and Piece, which the EUIPO used to substantiate its decision.
The court was also critical of Banksy’s shop Gross Domestic Product. The street artist knows that his trademarks can be transferred to other people if he doesn’t use his marks, so he opened the shop in October 2019 to sell his merchandise.
Banksy’s response to the trademark dispute wasn’t well-received by the court though. The EUIPO said his intention with the shop wasn’t honest since it was only made as a way to circumvent the law. The panel also found Banksy’s merchandise ‘impractical and offensive’, featuring odd items such as disco balls made from police riot helmets.
In the end, Banksy’s Gross Domestic Product only undermined his case. This move, together with his refusal to reveal his identity, led to his loss. The street artist eventually lost three more of the trademarks that Full Colour Black contested.
Banksy’s Australian Trademarks
Following his loss with the EUIPO, Banksy successfully trademarked his Love is in the Air and Girl with Balloon artworks with IP Australia. These trademarks apply to the use of the images on a range of products, including posters, clothing, handbags and more.
One of the IP lawyers remarked that although trademarks are not conventionally used to protect artworks, they can be used to inform consumers of the art’s origins.
Ultimately, Banksy losing his EU trademarks is a huge blow to his name as an artist. Even though his works are mostly displayed in public spaces, he’s still the owner of these art pieces. His move to register his most iconic murals with IP Australia was smart because it gives him some control over who uses his creations, even if it’s in a smaller territory than the EU.
For more trademark news, browse through the Pinnacle TMS blog. We’re a trademark services company focused on helping small and medium businesses, so you can come to us for all related matters, including trademark registration and management.
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