General Motors v Smash 137
Photo courtesy of Library Collective, Detroit

Graffiti Artist Smash 137 Suing General Motors

The corporate takeover of street art and graffiti is occurring in cities across the world. The rise in street art graffiti popularity on social media and cultural acceptance of the art form has flushed the advertising and corporate conglomerates into the streets. The worlds best law firms are researching ways in which they can use street art graffiti in commercial advertising campaigns without prior permission from the artist, credit or indeed a licence fee.

It beggars belief why the corporate won’t try and work with street artists or graffiti artists in the same professional manner as they’re other clients. Commission an artist and create something original and dynamic, rather than images shared on the internet by bloggers and happy snappers.

General Motors is the latest corporate company to fall foul of the street art graffiti world. They saw fit to use photographs of a Detroit parking garage in a commercial social media campaign. They state the project was of an architecture nature but one has to wonder whether the parking garage building would’ve made the cut without the mural by Smash 137.

“This right to photograph an architectural work extends to those portions of the work containing pictorial, graphic, or sculptural elements,”

Argued GM in a legal filing made in July.

“Because [Falkner’s] mural is painted onto an architectural work, it falls squarely within the ‘pictorial representation’ exemption, and his copyright infringement claim should be dismissed.”

Swiss artist Adrian Falkner (Smash 137) created the mural in Detroit 2014. A judge has recently allowed the artist’s lawsuit against General Motors so Smash 137 will get his day in a court of law. In his ruling, Judge Steven Wilson noted that the artist…

“was afforded complete creative freedom with respect to the mural, and… was not instructed that the mural should play a functional role with respect to the parking garage or that the design of the mural should match design elements of the garage.”

The debate rages on across the internet with most people falling on the corporate side. In their minds artists should just ‘shut up and paint’, after-all they’re painting public walls, with or without permission. Wires seem to have crossed and the general public appear to be leaping to the defence of the corporations. At this point in a ten year cycle we’ve personally met thousands of artists, most of whom wouldn’t care if members of the general public decided to use a photo of their works in a commercial format. They honestly couldn’t give a damn what happens after they walk away from that wall.

If a multi-million pound or indeed a multi-billion pound company comes along and uses an artist’s artwork in a commercial format, then that’s a whole different case. Yes many would be happy to see their artwork in print media or in TV ads, but the artists that make a living from their creative flare and skill, wouldn’t be happy for their artwork to be used by corporate without explicit permission. Especially considering that no credit is given to the artist, which in 2018, it’s pretty easy to find who painted what murals.





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