There is an interesting legal claim raised by Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor of Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” statue. The bull has long been the cherished symbol of Wall Street. However, recently a small sculpture of “Fearless Girl” was added to face the bull. The result is a striking image but a different image from the original art work. Di Modica says that the addition improperly changed his work and constitutes copyright infringement. The addition of “Fearless Girl” was the result of a commission by State Street Global Advisors, an investment firm, to call attention to the gender pay gap and the need for more women on corporate boards in the financial sector.
Di Modica is relying on the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which bars “intentional distortion” of art work. The Act states the following:
17 U.S. Code § 106A – Rights of certain authors to attribution and integrity
(a) Rights of Attribution and Integrity.—Subject to section 107 and independent of the exclusive rights provided in section 106, the author of a work of visual art—
(1) shall have the right—(A) to claim authorship of that work, and(B) to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of any work of visual art which he or she did not create;(2) shall have the right to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation; and
(3) subject to the limitations set forth in section 113(d), shall have the right—(A) to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right, and(B) to prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature, and any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of that work is a violation of that right.
Mayor De Blasio may have given the artist additional support for the lawsuit in his unveiling speech and later his taunting of the artist. At the unveiling, De Blasio stated that the statue symbolized “standing up to fear, standing up to power, being able to find in yourself strength to do what’s right.”
The attorney said Wednesday that, “the inescapable implication is that ‘Charging Bull’ is the source of that fear and power, and a force against doing what is right.” That is obviously different from the intended message of the piece to depict a bull market.
Then De Blasio blasted the artist for objecting to the inclusion of “Fearless Girl:” “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.”
Regardless of the merits of this action, that comment strikes me as unfair to the artist who has a legitimate objection that his art is being changed in a fundamental way. That objection does not mean that he is insensitive to the message of “Fearless Girl.” It means that that was not the message of his piece, which is now viewed as part of the overall artistic expression of “Fearless Girl.” It will make for an interesting challenge.
What is ironic is that Di Modica himself installed the bull without permission in 1987 and the piece was removed. It was later reinstalled by officials.