Another legal battle lost by Banksy. The UK artist got into a copyright battle with a greeting card company that claims it should be able to freely use his artworks on its products.
On May 18, the “Cancellation Division” of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) ruled in favor of the company, saying that the artist’s trademark for one of his most iconic works — Laugh Now — is invalid.
The work which depicts a chimpanzee holding a sandwich board has been at the center of dispute for quite some time. In 2018, the company that issues certificates of authenticity for Banksy, Pest Control, filed an EU trademark claim for the artwork, leading the greeting card company Full Colour Black to apply for its cancellation in November 2019.
Full Colour Black argued that Laugh Now is a work of public graffiti, like most of the elusive street artist’s work, and the EUIPO ruling upholds that definition. “It was free to be photographed by the general public and has been disseminated widely,” it states. “Banksy permitted parties to disseminate his work and even provided high-resolution versions of his work on his website and invited the public to download them and produce their own items.”
“As Banksy has chosen to be anonymous and cannot be identified, this would hinder him from being able to protect this piece of art under copyright laws without identifying himself,” the ruling adds. “While identifying himself would take away from the secretive persona which propels his fame and success.”
The ruling continues on to add Banksy’s own words that made the case virtually impossible to win. At one point, the ruling cites Banksy’s statement that “copyright is for losers” in the 2005 book Wall and Peace. However, public comments made by the artist and his lawyer when he opened up a gift shop two years ago were “the real nail in the coffin”, attorney Aaron Wood tells the World Trademark Review. “A greetings card is contesting the trademark I hold to my art, and attempting to take custody of my name so they can sell their fake Banksy merchandise legally.”
With this ruling, several other Banksy works might be at risk in the future, with five more cases set to come before the EUIPO. Wood expects that four of them will be decided within the next month, in the same way as the latest decision, adding: “I believe the decision sounds the death knell for his trademark portfolio.”