Street artist Banksy is finding out the hard way that being the world’s most famous anonymous street artist comes at a cost. The British graffiti artist has been battling with the European Union’s intellectual property office regarding his own trademark. The office recently stripped Banksy of trademark rights to two more of his most famous artworks, citing his hidden identity as a critical cause in loss of copyright.
Last year, street artist Banksy lost a legal battle over his famous Flower Thrower artwork, which depicts a masked protester throwing a bouquet of flowers and first appeared on a wall in Jerusalem in 2005.
The work was used by the UK card company Full Colour Black on their products. Banksy took Full Color Black to court but promptly lost the case after he refused to reveal his identity to the judge in the case.
The court ruled that: “As Banksy has chosen to be anonymous and cannot be identified, this would hinder him from being able to protect this piece of art under copyright laws without identifying himself while identifying himself would take away from the secretive persona which propels his fame and success.
“Banksy permitted parties to disseminate his work and even provided high-resolution versions of his work on his website and invited the public to download them and produce their own items.”
A statement from Banksy’s representatives, Pest Control Office Ltd, hit back, stating: “Print them out in a colour that matches your curtains, make a card for your gran, submit them as your own homework, whatever.”
“Please do not use Banksy’s images for any commercial purpose, including launching a range of merchandise or tricking people into thinking something is made or endorsed by the artist when it isn’t… saying Banksy wrote copyright is for losers in his book doesn’t give you free rein to misrepresent the artist and commit fraud. We checked.”
Ironically, it is the mystery surrounding street artist Banksy’s identity that has helped cultivate the legend and turn him into the most famous street artist in the world.
Banksy’s identity has been a subject of near-constant conjecture. Every few years, another newspaper claims to have found the ‘real Banksy’ with many people claiming to be the Bristol export. The 2010 film Exit Through The Gift Shop sought to explore Banksy’s relationship with celebrity and culture but left fans no closer to finding out who was responsible for the highly-charged political street art that Banksy has made his own.
But now Banksy’s dedication to remain unknown has come back to bite him. The European Union Intellectual Property Office warned that his anonymity “hinders him from being able to protect this art under copyright laws without identifying himself,” the EU panel found, in two separate judgments, that the artist was also acting in “bad faith” as he had “departed from accepted principles of ethical behaviours or honest commercial and business practices.”
The latest rulings issued from the office’s “cancellation department” are about several of Banksy’s most recognised artworks, including Radar Rat and Girl with an Umbrella. The judgment was made favouring Full Colour Black, a UK greeting card company that recreates Banksy’s famous works for sale.
Unfortunately for street artist Banksy, he has also made a habit of rallying against copyright infringement.
In his 2006 book Wall and Piece, Banksy wrote that “copyright is for losers” before urging readers to “copy, -borrow, steal and amend” his work. When making their decision, the EU, the intellectual property office, claimed that Banksy’s anonymity means he cannot secure copyright for his art.