Yesterday, a Danish court sided with Tal R, a Denmark-based artist, ruling that a duo, who wanted to cut up a painting they owned by the artist to use in the manufacturing of their watches, would infringe copyright laws.
The injunction was brought on by Tal R after Dann Thorleifsson and Arne Leivsgard released plans to dissect Paris Chic, a 2017 painting from Tal R’s Sexshop series, and include portions of the canvas on the faces of watches produced by the Faroese watchmakers. Tal R argued that if done, Thorleifsson and Leivsgard would violate copyright with their watches. In return the watchmakers claimed that the pieces of canvas used would be entirely too small to be recognizable so, effectively, they were destroying the canvas in the process, something that under Danish law, is completely permissible. Ultimately, Copenhagen’s maritime and commercial court upheld Tal R’s injunction and has required that Thorleifsson and Leivsgard pay 31,550 Danish krone (£3,600) in legal fees.
In August, Thorleifsson and Leivsgard, who founded the watch company Kankse five years ago, purchased Paris Chic for £70,000 from London’s Victoria Miro Gallery. Just a few months after, the duo announced that they planned to cut up the painting to be used in watches for their new label, Letho. They intended to use fragments of the painting, which measures in at 172 by 200 cm, to construct 200 to 300 watch faces. Each watch, if realized, would then be sold for around 10,000 Danish krone (£1,150) each. The announcement caused immediate interest with one hopeful buyer offering four times that amount to have the opportunity to buy the first watch and choose which section of Paris Chic be used.
When Thorleifsson and Leivsgard announced their plans in October, Tal R responded saying that the idea was ‘disrespectful’ and merely an attempt ‘to make money and get attention by making a product out of [his] art.’ However, the watchmakers didn’t see it that way. ‘We needed an artist that was esteemed by experts because we also needed to get a reaction,’ said Thorleifsson according to The Guardian. ‘If we just took a $100 canvas, no one would really care. It needed to be a true masterpiece.’
During the one-day hearing, Tal R’s lawyer Jørgen Permin explained that the artist recognized that once art is purchased, the owner has the right to resale or even destroy the work. ‘But,’ continued Permin, ‘what [Tal R] is not obliged to accept is for someone to alter the work and then reintroduce it to the public domain, and particularly not for commercial reasons.’ Another argument stated that even if the pieces of canvas were minute, the watches would be marketed as containing original work by Tal R and therefore, further infringed copyright.
In defense of the watchmakers, their attorney’s, Heidi Højmark Helveg, arguments stated that the watchmakers would need to cut the painting into such small pieces – each watch would only contain about ‘0.04%’ of Paris Chic – that they were essentially destroying the work, not simply altering it. Helveg stated that by the time the work was part of the watches, the artwork would be unrecognizable.
Despite Helveg’s arguments, the court upheld Tal R’s injunction forcing Thorleifsson and Leivsgard to ditch their plans. As of yesterday evening, Thorleifsson and Leivsgard were unsure as to if they would appeal the decision, push the injunction for a full-court hearing, or to reach a settlement.
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