Ai Weiwei is suing Volkswagen for using his work without permission

Ai Weiwei is suing Volkswagen for using his work without permission
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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is taking German automaker Volkswagen to court in Denmark for copyright infringement after his work appeared in an an advertisement published in 2017 without his permission.

The ad, which featured an orange car, used his installation Soleil Levant (2017) as a backdrop. The installation was created using 3,500 discarded orange life jackets used by migrants who fled from their countries and landed in the island of Lesvos, Greece. Ai Weiwei had created the work for World Refugee Day and presented it on the facade of the Kunsthall Charlottenborg in Copenhagen.

“I was not credited as the artist, and my artwork image was… cropped without permission,” Weiwei wrote on his Instagram earlier this year. “The infringing material was circulated to over 200,000 people, giving the false impression that I had authorized Volkswagen to use my artwork in its ad.” He added: “I was astonished by Volkswagen’s brazen violations of my intellectual property and moral rights.”

As Weiwei is heading to Copenhagen for the trial scheduled to begin on Wednesday, he posted a selfie on his instagram giving the middle finger to Volkswagen.

The artist said to have finally resorted to taking legal action after more than a year of “fruitless negotiation,” during which the automaker “only engaged in arrogant gestures to trivialise their guilt and dismiss the matter.” He also criticised Volkswagen for their hypocrisy in seeking to expand and grow market share in China while overlooking the nation’s human rights abuses.

Ai Weiwei, <em>Soleil Levant</em> (2017). Photo by David Stjernholm courtesy of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen.

Ai Weiwei, Soleil Levant (2017). Photo by David Stjernholm courtesy of the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen.

 

In his critisism, Weiwei referred to a story in the Hong Kong Free Press stating that “the German carmaker is so deeply invested in China that two reliable sources confirm that prominent figures associated with Volkswagen informally lobbied the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, not to bring up China’s program of mass internment of Muslims and other ideological enemies in Xinjiang when he visited his counterpart Wang Yi in November 2018.”

“Should the public not be informed about these facts at the same time when VW forcibly co-opts refugees’ life jackets—the most poignant symbols of human suffering and hope—as color-compliant props in its newest VW Polo ad?” he asked on his Instagram.

A Volkswagen representative told Danish newspaper Ritzau that the use of the artist’s work was simply a coincidence after they had spent a day photographing the car in “beautiful locations” around Copenhagen.

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I am suing Volkswagen in Denmark for violating my intellectual property and moral rights. My artwork “Soleil Levant” (2017), which I created for World Refugee Day, was installed at Copenhagen's Kunsthal Charlottenborg from June 20 to October 1, 2017. The work comprises 3,500 lifejackets used by refugees who fled to Lesvos, Greece, escaping persecution and conflict. In October 2017 Volkswagen Denmark used an unauthorized photo of “Soleil Levant” in an ad for its VW Polo campaign. I was not credited as the artist, and my artwork image was uncredited and cropped without permission. The infringing material was circulated to over 200,000 people, giving the false impression that I had authorized Volkswagen to use my artwork in its ad for the new Polo. I was astonished by Volkswagen’s brazen violations of my intellectual property and moral rights. Since November 2017 I have been trying to resolve the matter with Volkswagen. In more than one year of fruitless negotiation, they only engaged in arrogant gestures to trivialize their guilt and dismiss the matter. Intellectual property protection lies at the heart of a society that values human invention and makes our useful accumulation of knowledge possible. Respect of intellectual property law is one cornerstone of a functioning international legal system. As one of the largest European companies, Volkswagen should understand these same laws. Volkswagen and other multinational corporations have tremendous bargaining power in intellectual property protection as well as environmental and human rights. They are not above the law. Human rights, like intellectual property, is a popular concept but one that is difficult to enforce. We should remember that Germany took in one million refugees in 2015, a powerful humanitarian act in a divided world. As one of Germany’s internationally most visible companies, Volkswagen’s disregard for fair play and humanitarian issues is truly disturbing.

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Weiwei however isn’t buying the coincidence. “Such corporate bullying plunders the fruit of others’ labor, intimidates individuals attempting to enforce their rights, and shows contempt for humanitarian and ethical behavior,” he wrote.