Jeff Koons infringes French photographer’s copyright

Posted on: May 4, 2017 by

In March, Jeff Koons and the Pompidou Centre in Paris were held jointly liable for copyright infringement.  The work at issue was a porcelain sculpture of about 40 inches representing two naked children.  The sculpture was part of Koons’s ‘Banality’ series and was scheduled to be part of a Koons retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in 2014-2015.

But the widow of a photographer named Jean-François Bauret recognised the sculpture as being a copy of a photograph taken by her husband before his death.

A comparison of the original photograph by Jean-François Bauret and Koons’s 1988 sculpture, ‘Naked’.

The subject matter was found to be identical: in both cases, two naked children in the same positions, each with identical haircuts, and the same demeanour.  In Koon’s sculpture, the boy is offering a bouquet of flowers to the girl and they stand in the middle of a heart littered with flowers.  This seemed to introduce an element of romance, which had been completely absent from the original.  This argument, however, was not sufficient.  The Court found Koons liable for copyright infringement.  Koons’s company was fined 46,000 Euro, half of which would go to court costs, and the other half to damages for the plaintiff.

An interesting fact to keep in mind: one of these sculptures by Koons sold for approximately eight million Euro…

The Pompidou was also held liable for infringement although it never put the sculpture on display, allegedly because the sculpture had been damaged in transport.  However, the museum bore its share of responsibility since the sculpture had nevertheless been displayed in its catalog.

Koons is no stranger to copyright suits. Two further examples come to mind.  One of Koons’s works, Fait d’Hiver, involving a pig next to a woman’s torso, was subject to an infringement claim by advertising executive Franck Davidovici.  The work was claimed to be a direct copy of an advertisement for women’s clothing line Naf Naf.  Clothing advertising can be a thing of mystery…

A comparison of Koons’s work on the left in ‘Fait d’Hiver’ and the original Naf Naf advertisement on the right.

The other well-known case is a sculpture called String of Puppies, a sculpture directly copied from a black and white photograph without the consent of the photographer.  The sculpture was practically identical to the photograph which featured a man and a woman holding eight puppy dogs.  The principal difference was that Koons had added some daisies to the head and ears of the couple, and the puppies were coloured blue.  He freely admitted that he had copied the picture but tried to rely on the defense of parody under US law. This was unsuccessful and so Koons was found liable for infringement by the court.

A comparison of the original photograph called ‘Puppies’ by Art Rogers and Koons’s sculpture for ‘String of Puppies’, found to be an infringement under US copyright law.