Art Basel Tells Adidas to Step Off in Lawsuit Over Fair-Themed Sneakers

Swiss fair organizers file a lawsuit against Adidas for slapping "Art Basel" label on hundreds of sneakers.

Adidas produced and promoted this fair-themed sneaker at the most recent Art Basel fair in Miami.

Art Basel wants Adidas to take a walk. The art fair’s parent company, MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) Ltd., has filed a lawsuit against the US and German divisions of the athletic and footwear company for copyright infringement. The unforgivable violation?  Adidas’s apparently unauthorized—and frankly mystifying—use of an “Art Basel” label on one of its sneakers during the most recent edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach last December.

The claim centers on Adidas’s use of online marketing channels, including its Twitter feed to “promote events in Miami and Miami Beach during which Adidas distributed the Infringing Sneaker.”

More specifically, the complaint calls out a choreographed dance event in Miami on November 30, which Adidas promoted. Art Basel says Adidas “gave away at least 500 pairs of the Infringing Sneakers to the public and distributed additional Infringing Sneakers to the individuals who performed the choreographed dance.”

The Adidas choreographed dance event as pictured in the Art Basel complaint.

The Adidas choreographed dance event as pictured in the Art Basel complaint.

Further, the complaint claims that the weekend prior to Art Basel, Adidas “arranged for journalists from around the world to travel to Miami Beach to promote and report on the distribution of the Infringing Sneakers.” Adidas provided early announcements to journalists and even gave them the sneakers directly, according to the claim.

A spokeswoman for Adidas told artnet News via email that the company had no comment on the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for Art Basel told artnet News via email that the complaint speaks for itself.

A tweet from Complex Sneakers cited in Art Basel's complaint.

A tweet from Complex Sneakers cited in Art Basel’s complaint.


Though Adidas did not actually sell the sneakers, the complaint notes that the shoes keep turning up for sale through online platforms, including eBay and YouTube. They’ve also been featured on “sneaker enthusiast websites, including those belonging to journalists specifically contacted by Adidas,” according to the claim.

The complaint discusses at length the strength of the Art Basel brand, pointing out that “the estimated value of the art brought to Art Basel in 2016 is over $3 billion.” It goes on to boast that “Art Basel has received unsolicited media coverage from around the United States, including from publications such as Forbes Magazine, the New York Times and Cosmopolitan, which has garnered significant and widespread recognition of Art Basel, Plaintiffs and the ART BASEL mark. The New York Times alone has featured Art Basel in dozens of articles since as early as 2002.”

The 24-page suit was filed in US District Court, Southern District of Florida on May 30, seeking injunctive relief and damages for charges including copyright infringement, false association, federal dilution, deceptive and unfair trade practice, and unjust enrichment.

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