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.
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.