A Paris court of appeals has upheld a 2018 ruling regarding a 2015 copyright infringement lawsuit brought on by photographer Franck Davidovici. With the Tuesday decision, the Centre Pompidou and artist Jeff Koons have been found guilty of copyright infringement and now jointly owe Davidovici €190,000 (£163,900).
The lawsuit hinges on a 1988 sculpture by Koons called Fait d’hiver depicts the bust of a woman lying on the ground as a pig, wearing a flowered collar with a barrel, and two penguins look on. The amusing sculpture was part of “Benality,” a series by Koons that debuted in 1988. The series raised eyebrows at the time but many of its works would go on to be featured in a 2014 retrospective of Koons’ works that kicked off at the Whitney in New York before traveling to the Centre Pompidou and then the Guggenheim Bilbao.
Meant to be commentary on the imagery of mass media, Fait d’hiver became the centre of the dispute after Davidovici saw Koons’ sculpture in a catalogue for the Centre Pompidou’s exhibition of the 2014 retrospective. The issue was that Davidovici found the sculpture to be incredibly similar to a photograph taken and published by the photographer in 1985.
Davidovici’s black and white photograph was created for the French brand Naf Naf and included a woman, wearing a jacket with fur accents, lying on the ground. A pig, wearing a collar with a barrel gazes at the woman with the words “FAIT D’HIVER” in the top left corner of the two-page spread.
While Koons made a few alterations, like the addition of two penguins and swapping the fur jacket for a mesh top, the sculpture does seem to mimic the photo taken by Davidovici just a few years earlier.
Davidovici first sued Koons and the Parisian museum in 2015 and in 2018, a judge ruled that the artist and museum violated copyright laws and owed Davidovici €135,000. However, the artist and museum appealed the ruling which has now been upheld and their monetary penalty was increased by €55,000. Additionally, if the museum or Koons continue to exhibit Fait d’hiver online, they will be fined €600 per day. Meanwhile, the publishers of the 2014 catalogue that accompanied the retrospective now owes Davidovici €14,000 as well.
In 2007, an artist’s proof of Koons’ Fait d’hiver sold at Christie’s for just under $4.3 million (£3 million).
Koons is no stranger for being taken to court for plagiarism. In 2019, a Paris court upheld a 2017 ruling that found the artist, and again the Centre Pompidou, guilty of copyright infringement. That case concerned Koons’ sculpture from the same series called Naked and a photograph titled Enfants by French photographer Jean-François Bauret. While the sculpture was not shown in the 2014 retrospective, images of it were used to advertise the show. The artist and museum were ordered to pay €20,000 to Bauret’s family. Koons also paid the family an addition €4,000 for use of the image.