Artists, joint authorship and the failure of a contract

Posted on: November 13, 2015 by

A trial is set to commence in Amsterdam later this month pitting two great performance artists against one another. They are former collaborators (and one-time lovers) Marina Abramovic and “Ulay”, who after breaking up romantically and creatively in 1988, entered into an agreement regarding those works they had created together during their partnership.

But Ulay isn’t happy about the way in which his ex is now attributing the works, the lack of any accurate statement of sales and the infrequency with which he has been paid royalties under the contract. The contract had supposedly provided for percentage-based profit sharing from future sales of works.

This story shows the importance, when joint creation is involved, of having a good contract. If one party (allegedly Abramovic in this case) is able to contravene some of the contractual terms, then perhaps something was missing in the way the contract was to be performed and how such performance would be supervised, or indeed enforced. Artists entering into agreements may want to consider having a panel of fellow artists overseeing the performance of the contract, possibly even helping the parties find a mediated solution if an argument arises, rather than dragging the dispute through the courts.