Another Setback for “Mr. Brainwash”

March 20, 2013

On February 4th the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted partial summary adjudication against documentary star and appropriation artist Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. “Mr. Brainwash.” (2013 WL 440127).  Guetta was accused of copyright infringement for his seven artworks derived from Dennis Morris’s photograph of Punk icon Sid Vicious.

From the complaint, the original:

From the complaint, the derivative work:

The court ruled that Guetta, whose dubious rise to fame is featured in the 2010 art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, failed to demonstrate that his use of Morris’s photograph was “transformative” to meet the “fair use” exception:

An artist is not required to compromise his or her artistic vision merely because the artist could have made a similar statement in a non-infringing way. However, the artist must provide a sufficient justification for using another’s copyrighted material in effecting the artist’s vision. Such a justification could be based on making a commentary on the material used in the other work, i.e., parody. It could also be based on a clear articulation of how using the material served the artist’s objective beyond merely saving the artist time or effort, i.e., satire.

This is not Guetta’s first time defending his appropriation of another’s photo.  He was sued at least twice before (also in C.D. CA) for copyright infringement for using photos of Run DMC (Friedman v. Guetta, 2:10-CV-00014 ) and Jimi Hendrix (Estate of Marshall v. Guetta, 2:12-CV-03423).

Track Morris v. Guetta on WestlawNext with a Docket Track at  2:12-CV-00684.  Also, the docket and Westlaw versions of many of the pleadings are available at the decision, 2013 WL 440127. 


Each of William Patry’s treatises on copyright has a section dedicated to appropriation art:

Patry on Fair Use: PATRYFAIR 3:59

Patry on Copyright:  PATRYCOPY 10:100

In both, Patry cites a 2000 George Mason Law Review article by William Landes.  See Copyright, Borowwed Images, and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach 9 GMLR 1.