UPDATE: Ai Weiwei took to Instagram this Wednesday to announce that he has won the case against Scandinavian Motor Co. A / S. The automotive giant had featured the artist’s ‘Soleil Levant’ (2017) installation in is Volkswagen Polo ad without his permission back in 2017.
“This market exploitation of Ai Weiwei’s artwork was in clear contradiction with the considerations and thoughts that were behind the work and the detailed content of the work. The exploitation caused a certain risk of diluting Ai Weiwei’s artwork and had the character of a parasite on Ai Weiwei’s good name and reputation. The use, therefore, constituted improper exploitation of the artwork for marketing purposes,” as per the Danish court ruling.
The court issued a remuneration of 1.5 million USD for the motor company’s unauthorized usage of the artwork alongside a non-financial damage compensation of $250,000 DKK (approx. $37,577 USD). Moreover, the company will need to reproduce sections of its ad where the artwork is portrayed. The ad was printed in 216,500 copies of SMC’s magazine ‘VieW.’
ORIGINAL STORY (May 24, 2019): Ai Weiwei recently filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen and its Danish counterpart Skandinavisk after he said his artwork appeared in an advert for the German automaker without permission. The legal battle surrounds his Soleil Levant (2017), a sprawling installation that sees the Kunsthal Charlottenborg’s façade packed with approximately 3,500 life jackets that were all salvaged from refugees in the island of Lesbos in Greece. The artwork was on display at the Copenhagen gallery from June to October 2017. It was then featured as the backdrop for a Volkswagen Polo campaign in October that same year.
Ai Weiwei encountered the ad back in March 2017 and claimed that his work was used without permission, and he was not credited as the artist. “I am suing Volkswagen in Denmark for violating my intellectual property and moral rights,” said the artist in an Instagram post. “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.”
On Tuesday, Weiwei posted a selfie on Instagram flipping off the Volkswagen logo. “On the way to Copenhagen to attend the court hearing for our case against Volkswagen,” read the caption.
The following Wednesday, the hearing took place at Glostrup District Court in Copenhagen. A representative for Volkswagen Denmark told CNN that the company would not comment on ongoing case. “However, the spokesman said the company had admitted its mistake and had tried to reach a resolution with the artist for the past year,” reports CNN.
The artist claimed that he had unsuccessful attempts to resolve the matter with Volkswagen. “Volkswagen and other multinational corporations have tremendous bargaining power in intellectual property protection as well as environmental and human rights,” he wrote. “They are not above the law.”
Ai Weiwei is not the first artist to sue an automaker over the unauthorized use of images. Last April, artists Daniel Bombardier, Maxx Gramajo, James “Dabls” Lewis, and Jeff Soto sued Mercedes-Benz for using their Detroit murals in ads surrounding its G 500 vehicle.