The New Documentary ‘Copyright Infringement’ Unpacks the Art and Action Behind Artist Cj Hendry’s Beloved Scavenger Hunt

Watch the Instagram sensation get chased across five cities in four countries in this new documentary film.

Copyright Infringement, still. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

What would you do to get your hands on a free, limited-edition Cj Hendry t-shirt? If you are one of the Australian artist’s fans—and she has 682,000 Instagram followers to her name—you probably know the answer to that question. You’d embark on a massive scavenger hunt, blindly chasing her and her team across cities around the world in the hopes of snagging a box in her annual Copyright Infringement giveaway.

Now, the small but wildly popular phenomena, which began with a cease-and-desist letter from the Muhammed Ali estate in 2018, is the subject of a new documentary film, also titled Copyright Infringement, premiering June 9 at the Brooklyn Film Festival.

It’s the first feature film from director David Sabshon and D’Marie Productions, and it follows Hendry, her family, and her staff on an intercontinental adventure, dropping t-shirts in five cities in four countries in as many days. (This whirlwind took place, remarkably, when Hendry was five months pregnant—something the filmmakers shot around, at her request.)

“It was exhausting,” Hendry admitted to Artnet News. “But I’m just one small part of a very big puzzle. I can’t do it without my team.” (That included a dedicated squad in London, and her parents and sister in her hometown in Brisbane, while Hendry and her studio manager, Elsa Picone led the drops in North America.)

<em>Copyright Infringement</em>, still. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

Copyright Infringement, still. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

For each edition of Copyright Infringement, Hendry creates hyperrealistic drawings based on other artists’s work. The film follows the fourth year of the giveaway, featuring knock-offs of Damien Hirst spot paintings, cleverly packed into paint cans. (“He’s a complete dick. He’s very successful,” Hendry said of the British artist in the film. “I think… he’s brilliant.”)

Then, Hendry prints her drawings on t-shirts, packs them into bright red boxes labeled “Copyright Infringement/Trash Only,” and sets out at the crack of dawn to leave them in public places, documented in her Instagram stories, for fans to come and find them.

The first edition came about when Hendry realized she couldn’t sell her t-shirts of her drawings of crumbled Andy Warhol photographs without risking legal action—but it seemed a shame to destroy the merchandise.

“Fuck it. We’ve already spent $20,000—let’s at least have some fun with it,” she said in the film. “It just became this phenomenal things that happened completely accidentally.”

Cj Hendry in Copyright Infringement posting the location of a box to her IG story in Mexico City, Mexico. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

Cj Hendry in Copyright Infringement posting the location of a box to her IG story in Mexico City, Mexico. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

The excitement surrounding Copyright Infringement is immediately apparent in the film. One of the early shots zooms in on a women in hair foils and a face mask sprinting out of a Soho salon in order to snatch a box out of Picone’s hands.

Part of the appeal, of course, is that for most of the self-taught artist’s fans, her work is far too expensive. They can go to Hendry’s immersive art exhibitions—the most recent featured an indoor playground for adults that mimicked the colored lines of her “Plaid” drawings—but they can’t afford to buy her labored, incredibly detailed pieces.

The Copyright Infringement t-shirts are free of course—but you have to earn them with sweat equity. Owning and wearing one becomes nothing short of a badge of honor, and a tangible reminder of the thrill of the chase.

It was experiencing this frenzy for himself that gave the film’s producer, Frank Spadafora, the idea for a documentary. He was following along on Instagram during Copyright Infringement 1.0, and even abruptly ended a Zoom call to try and claim a box dropped near his apartment.

Copyright Infringement, still. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

Copyright Infringement, still. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

“Imagine just being like, ‘oh, I’m so sorry, you guys, I gotta run.’ It was exactly like that, and I just bounced. I was afraid that I forgot my house keys—you just panic because you’re like, ‘this is happening,’” Spadafora told Artnet News. “But that’s what’s so brilliant about it is. As soon as she posts, you really just have to drop everything and run. Otherwise, you’re not getting a box.”

Spadafora came up short in his quest, but he did feel an immediate sense of community when he showed up just in time to see another fan claim the prize. Two years later, when he slid into Hendry’s DMs to suggest a film, the artist was immediately on board.

The film captures both the sense of triumph for those who secure their prize, and the agony of defeat for those beat to the punch.

“In Chicago, this one woman Morgan was following us for six hours before she got a box. Another woman rode her bike 22 miles to try and get one,” Spadafora said.

Cj Hendry in Copyright Infringement after completing the assembly of 50 boxes for the drop in Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

Cj Hendry in Copyright Infringement after completing the assembly of 50 boxes for the drop in Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of D’Marie Productions.

The documentary also delves into Hendry’s unique place in the art world, succeeding sans gallery representation—and the logistical challenges of carrying out the giveaway and staying one step ahead of the fans.

Hendry hypes up each year’s drop ahead of time, but keeps the details a closely guarded secret. For the filmmakers, that made for a delicate dance, reaching out to a small group of the most dedicated fans ahead of time to encourage them to document and film their efforts to be first to a drop site, without giving too much away.

“Imagine being a producer trying to film a movie about something that nobody knows when and where it’s gonna happen! It was a challenge,” Spadafora admitted.

Copyright Infringement 4.0—the penultimate edition of the series, which ended last year—kicked off in Mexico City, where Hendry didn’t know if there would be anyone following along for the drop. She needn’t have worried: even though they started before dawn, it only took a few boxes before the first runner caught up, sprinting in a mad dash to grab the goods.

“There’s so many great interactions that happen. People just hyperventilate, they’re so excited,” Hendry said.

Watching the film, it’s easy to root for the runners, who are trying so hard to be first to the drop—even as the artist and her team do their best to evade pursuit.

“You obviously want people to get the boxes,” Hendry admitted, “but when you’re in the car and you’re getting chased, you’re like ‘get away, get away!’”

The documentary film Copyright Infringement is screening at the Brooklyn Film Festival, Windmill Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York, June 9, 2023, at 8 p.m.; and the New York City Independent Film Festival, the Producers Club, 358 West 44 Street, New York, New York, June 11, 2023 at 1:30 p.m. 


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