Volkswagen Case Could be the First of its Kind

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Volkswagen Case Could be the First of its Kind


This post is guest authored by Victoria Gonzales, a rising third-year law student at Texas A&M School of Law. Victoria is one of our summer legal interns here at Maddrey PLLC, and we are happy to present this article. As always, I have reviewed this post for its legal and factual conclusions – Tom Maddrey



Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is suing Volkswagen for featuring his work in an advertisement without his permission. The piece, Soleil Levant (2017), was on display from June to October 2017 in Copenhagen for World Refugee Day.The installation featured 3,500 lifejackets worn by refugees who took to the sea to reach Europe, and then appeared in an advertisement for the Volkswagen Polo.


The artist took to social media to inform the public that his work was cropped and placed in the advertisement “without credit.” Additionally, Weiwei said that this use gave the “false impression that [he] had authorized Volkswagen to use [his work].” In the same Instagram post, he claimed that Volkswagen had violated his “intellectual property” and “moral rights.”



What does he mean by moral rights?

Generally, moral rights include the right to include (or not include) your name on your work and the right to protect your work from being changed or destroyed. Luckily, Weiwei has brought suit in Europe where copyright owners have stronger protection for moral rights. So, moral rights could give Weiwei a place to hang his hat since the ad did not give credit to him as the artist.

Interestingly, a very similar case is being brought against Mercedes-Benz in the United States. Rather than relying on moral rights, which are much narrower in the United States, Mercedes is claiming they “fundamentally transformed the visual aesthetic and meaning” of the artworks by placing the car in front of the mural and partly blurring it.


Why is this case different?  

Typically, artists and the corporation settle outside of court, which is exactly what happened with two different artists whose work appeared in NRA advertisements. Here, after nearly a year of attempting to negotiate, Volkswagen and Weiwei could not find common ground. The courts will have to determine if and which rights Volkswagen infringed by not crediting or seeking permission of Wei Wei for his installation to appear in the background of an advertisement. This could set an important precedent for street art or other public works that appear in the background of monetized Instagram posts, commercials, or even movies.


To learn more about Ai Weiwei’s installation read an article published by Designboom HERE.


About the Author

Thomas Maddrey is the founder and managing partner of Maddrey PLLC. Prior to attending law school, Tom was a commercial photographer, entrepreneur, and gallery owner. His work in both the arts and as a business owner has given him a unique perspective on the needs of owners and creatives, as well as an understanding of the obstacles they face.

Learn more about Thomas Maddrey HERE.



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