Damien Hirst Sued For Alleged Copyright Infringement

Damien Hirst has a long history with drugs. In the mid 90’s his drug addition nearly destroyed his career. Later drugs went on to become a central and profitable theme in his work and helped secure his place as one of the world’s most successful living artists. In 2007, one of his glass medicine cabinets filled with an array of rainbow coloured and, bronze cast pills sold at auction, fetching a record $19.2 million. Later that year Hirst launched his line of silver and gold charm bracelets featuring pills, these are still sold in his online shop and are priced between $15,000 and $30,000. It is these bracelets that are proving contentious and are at the centre of a lawsuit.

In a lawsuit that was filed last week in a Manhatten federal court, is claimed that Hirst “copied and/or created derivative works of Wolstenholme’s works, namely Wolstenholme’s pill charms and pill charm bracelet. It continues that Hirst “an internationally recognized artist, entrepreneur and art collector, has been wilfully and wrongfully copying, creating, manufacturing, distributing, and/or selling [works that infringe Wolstenholme’s] on an ongoing and continuous basis.”

Wolstenholme states in the lawsuit that she “first began creating three-dimension sculptures derived from lost-wax castings of pharmaceutical pills in or around 1996. [She] used these sculptures in bracelets, necklaces, pendants, rosaries, earrings, cufflinks and rings.” She maintains several Canadian copyright registrations in connection with the jewellery, in addition to applying for registration in the US for these designs. She further states that her pill bracelets, which retail in the region of $1,000 to $3,500. “have been widely displayed and marketed in the United States and Canada, including on the internet, and have been featured in various newspaper and magazine articles in both countries, as well as at various galleries. In her complaint Wolstenholme describes Hirst as “having had a rather notorious career, and has been the subject of numerous allegations of copying fellow artists. She continues that Hirst’s pill charm bracelets are an infringement of her jewellery.

Wolstenholme is seeking a court order for Hirst to immediately and permanently cease all sales of the allegedly infringing jewellery and in addition she is claiming damages, including all profits that Hirst has made from the sale of the pill charm bracelets.

Experts have commented that Wolstenholme does not have a very strong case, as the charms on both artists’ bracelets are mini sculptures of generic pharmaceuticals. Robert Clarida an intellectual property lawyer told the Daily Beast “She doesn’t own what the actual pill looks like”. He continued “there would be a stronger case for infringement if Hirst used Wolstenholme’s pill casting to make his own bracelets, or if the specific charms were arranged in the same order, but the suit makes neither of those claims. If the similarity between these bracelets is just the idea of a charm bracelet will pills on it, then there’s no copyright issues, since only the expression of an idea- not the idea itself- is copyrightable.

June Besek, Executive Director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media, and the Arts at Columbia Law School, agreed that Wilstenholme could only claim copyright protection if the pill charms were arranged in a remarkable similar sequence.

A spokesperson for Damien Hirst’s company- Science Ltd has stated “we refute the claim made by Colleen Wolstenholme. Damien Hirst signed his earliest pill work in 1988, long before Wolstenholme created her first jewelry. We will defend any action brought against Damien.”



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