Street art is widely said to be the fastest growing sector of the art market and many brands have piggy-backed on this by seeking endorsements in order to sell their wares to their target customers.
So far so good, but there have also been a spate of brands using street art in unauthorised campaigns and then facing the PR backlash when the artist objects.
One of the issues that arises and is of particular sensitivity is the unauthorised endorsement of that brand. For street artists they may not want to be associated with a mainstream corporate brand whose ethics do not align with their own and so face accusations of 'selling out'. A growing number of claims have been issued in the US seeking damages, based in some instances on assertions of career ending endorsements e.g. the estate of Dash Snow's claim against McDonald's. Some brands, such as Mercedes, have opted to take on the artist but others have subsequently rowed back in the face of the public opprobrium.
The issue is untested in the UK courts but given its frequency it is increasingly likely that an artist will seek Court assistance. The usual hurdles to doing so are the expense and risks of taking on a large corporate defendant but there are ways of mitigating the risk such as insurance or crowd funding. A ground-breaking precedent for the EU may be set by a case being brought by Ai Weiwei against Volkswagen in the Danish courts.
It seems only a matter of time until the UK courts will hear such a case, many brands have a blind spot when it comes to the use of street and urban art. Its public nature seems to encourage unauthorised use for their own ends. The law may not yet provide guidance for this but there is no reason why it should not be treated like any other artwork. Watch this space!
My art was used to sell cars – but I’m fighting back Ai Weiwei