Fearless Girl up against Charging Bull – can the law protect an artist?
16 June 2017 by Neemah Ahamed
In commemoration of International Women’s Day, State Street Global Advisors (a US finance company), installed a four foot bronze sculpture of a Fearless Girl on Wall Street. The bold figure stares down at the iconic Charging Bull statue. Both figures are powerful symbols. Fearless Girl is a part of a policy to put pressure on companies to add more women to their corporate boards. The figure of Charging Bull is a dominant image of “aggressive financial optimism and prosperity” and was installed by the sculptor Arturo Di Modica outside the New York Stock Exchange and gifted to New Yorkers after the stock crash in 1987. Di Modica is considering whether to challenge the installation of Fearless Girl on the basis that it infringes on his rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act 1990 (VARA).
VARA gives protection to the moral rights of artists provided certain requirements are met. This includes the right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the artist’s honour or reputation. Di Modica’s lawyers have argued that Fearless Girl intentionally blocks the path of Charging Bull and changes its perception into one of fear and in doing so has brought into disrepute the artist’s honour and reputation under VARA.
The law does not provide protection retrospectively to infringements of integrity that occurred before 1 June 1991. However since Di Modica still owns the title to the work and the alleged modification to his work as a result of the installation of Fearless Girl occurred in March, his lawyers believe the work may be afforded protection under VARA.
A claim under VARA is unlikely to hold up in court. At the heart of this issue is whether a statue can be construed to be ‘site specific’. If the artwork is ‘site specific’ then previous cases have shown that it will be removed from the moral rights protection of VARA. In line with this, art lawyers have commented that Charging Bull may be seen to be site specific to Wall Street and therefore it is unlikely that it will be afforded any moral protection under VARA.
Presently, Di Modica’s lawyers have requested documents regarding the commission of Fearless Girl and may consider filing a claim on copyright infringement on the basis that that the deliberate placement of Fearless Girl in the path of Charging Bull makes Charging Bull an inherent part of that work.
Broadly speaking copyright is a legal right that protects the use of your work once it has been created. You do not need to register it to ensure your rights are protected. However copyright may not protect all forms of innovation. In some cases a different form of Intellectual Property protection may be more suitable. If your copyright has been infringed or would like more information on copyright, trademarks, designs and general intellectual property elements, please contact Tony Fisher on firstname.lastname@example.org.