Kardashian Pastor Sued For Copyright Infringement by 8 Miami Street Artists

The pastor officiated Kim Kardashian's marriage to Kanye West.

Rich Wilkerson.Image: Courtesy of Patrick Mcmullan
Rich Wilkerson.
Image: Courtesy of Patrick Mcmullan

Eight Miami street artists have filed a lawsuit against celebrity pastor Rich Wilkerson of Wynwood’s Vous Church, which counts among its congregation Justin Bieber and the Kardashian sisters, for allegedly using their artwork without permission for advertisements on social media and in local newspapers. The artists—Ahol Sniffs Glue, Typoe, Bikismo, Magnus Sodamin, Santiago Rubino, Martin Whatson, Derek Kanterman, and Luis Berros—claim that neither Wilkerson nor any representative from the church attempted to contact them to obtain permission to use the images.

In November 2014, the artists agreed to participate in a grassroots campaign to address economic disparity in the burgeoning arts neighborhood by bringing art as well as outside funding to the Jose de Diego Middle School, where a series of large-scale murals were created. In July 2015, Wilkerson began an advertising campaign to promote a new spinoff of the church, allegedly co-opting images of the murals for the resulting ads, which were then placed on the church’s website, various social media accounts, and in newspaper ads and pamphlets distributed throughout the city.

Advertisements for Vous Church.

Advertisements for Vous Church.

According to the suit, which was filed by New York-based firm Kushnirsky Gerber LLC, “[T]he majority of the advertisements featured nothing more than the Vous logo and meeting information superimposed over the School Mural.”

The suit goes on to state that despite Wilkerson’s “considerable resources” (he officiated Kim Kardashian’s 2014 marriage to Kanye West), he never offered to compensate any of the artists for their work. “[Wilkerson and his wife] regularly travel around the United States and internationally, fraternize with celebrities, and lead a highend, materialistic lifestyle filled with designer clothing, luxury cars and yachts, and upscale parties, restaurants, and nightclubs, much of which they openly document on their personal social media accounts,” the suit notes.

The artists are seeking compensation in the form of licensing fees for the use of their work. “It’s about protecting and controlling the use of one’s work. It’s a right that they have under the copyright law,” Andrew Gerber, the lawyer representing the artists, told artnet News in a telephone call.

Original artwork.

Original artwork.

“A common misconception with a lot of people, not just with this lawsuit, but in general, is that publicly posting artwork places that artwork in the public domain,” Gerber continued. “This is a misconception that I think needs to be corrected.  If some creative work is publicly displayed, the public display of that work does not at all affect the intellectual property right of the creator of that work. Period.”

Original artwork.

Original artwork.

The suit against Vous is just the latest in a string of copyright infringement suits filed by street artists who have had their work used without permission by corporations. In 2014, Ahol Sniffs Glue and Kushnirsky Gerber LLC sued American Eagle Outfitters for appropriating the artist’s signature “lazy eyeball” motif for advertisements and several in-store displays. In August, Joseph Tierney, aka Rime, sued Jeremy Scott and Moschino for using his work on a dress worn by Katy Perry.

Vous Church did not respond to a request for comment.

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