Jeff Koons Plagiarism Lawsuit Could Top Millions

Is appropriation a valid artistic strategy or pure theft? A French court will decide.

Jeff Koons, Fait d'Hiver (1988) Photo: Courtesy Christie's via artnet Price Database
Jeff Koons, Fait d'Hiver (1988) Photo: Courtesy Christie's via artnet Price Database

 

French adman Franck Davidovici has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Jeff Koons over the artist’s 1988 work Fait d’Hiver. The American artist, who currently enjoys a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, was accused in December of having plagiarized Davidovici’s advertisement of the same name for the clothing brand Naf-Naf (see Jeff Koons Sued for Plagiarism). The artist’s lawyer, Jean Aittouares, confirmed to Le Monde this past Friday that legal action is now under way .

The extent of the suit against Koons is quite staggering. According to the paper, Davidovici’s lawyer has demanded that the sculpture be confiscated. It was previously removed from the exhibition at the request of its owners. The lawyer claims that Davidovici would give the work to the French state. However, he expects to receive any and all funds ever generated by the sculpture’s sale or exhibition. He also reportedly requests an additional €271,000 ($314,000) in damages.

Davidovici’s advertisement featured a woman laying on her back in the snow with a small pig, which sports a rum barrel around its neck and is nuzzling the top of her head. Koons’s artwork, part of his well-known Banality series, features Italian porn star Ilona Staller similarly posed, though differently dressed, with a pig approaching her while she lies in the snow.

Centre Pompidou director Alain Seban was quick to come to Koons’s defense when the allegations emerged, explaining that appropriation was a common artistic strategy. However, Davidovici’s lawyer isn’t convinced. In an open letter, he writes, “Legally, appropriation as you understand it is nothing other than counterfeiting. As such, it undermines the author of the original artwork’s fundamental rights, in the same way theft undermines the owner of the stolen good’s fundamental rights.” He adds that it is “unimaginable” that Seban and the institution he represents would support Koons’s actions.

Jeff Koons, Naked (1988) Via: artnet Price Database

Jeff Koons, Naked (1988) that is also subject to plagiarism accusations.
Photo Via: artnet Price Database

Koons has lost two previous copyright cases brought against him, which were related to works from the Banality series. But the damages sought in this latest suit are likely unprecedented (see The Wisdom of Jeff Koons in 6 Easy Quotes). Even if that the claim is only brought against the edition of Fait d’Hiver currently in France for the Pompidou show—there are three other copies—the total requested damages could theoretically stretch well into the millions. The sculpture sold in 2007 at Christie’s for $4.3 million. Due to the fact that Koons himself was not the consigner of the work in that auction, it could, however, be difficult for Davidovici to make a claim on those significant gains.

It remains to be seen whether any formal legal action will arise from the second work for which Koons has been accused of copyright infringement, in relation to the Paris show (see Second Plagiarism Claim Against Jeff Koons in Two Weeks).

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