Creator of the “Charging Bull” Threatens Lawsuit Over “Fearless Girl”

imgresThere 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.

143 thoughts on “Creator of the “Charging Bull” Threatens Lawsuit Over “Fearless Girl””

  1. De Blasio makes plain that Fearless Girl is political propaganda, an analogue to Socialist Realism.

  2. Nothing, but nothing looses its dignity faster than when those gathering round in righteous indignation lack all sense of humor or perspective and the comments on this site (and I’m sure others) strip any and all dignity away from that symbol of male dominated corporate corruption faster than you can say, “Crony Capitalism.”

    What’s funny is the fact that male or female, it’s just corruption, epitomized in a raging bull, yet we fight over it as if it were the holy grail. And along comes but a little girl with some moxie and so quickly and effortlessly illustrates just what an empty, vacuous, symbol it really is. 🙂

    1. True, but I mainly see this post as a law discussion. It does, of course, have political and social overtones (as I clearly shared above), but it makes an interesting legal argument. Argument is good! If we all agreed, we wouldn’t learn anything. Then we would be forced to go back to television.

      1. You’re right Slohrss29, it’s all in good spirit when the spirit is good and yours definitely is. As to law, I think Professor Turley often picks out these rather unique situations specifically for their humoristic value.

        Personally, I see the bull as having little if any actual artistic merit. It’s a porn piece to get executives off on themselves as if there was some heroic value to greed beyond mundane corruption and thuggish brutality.

        As to the little girl, she’s priceless but perhaps not for the reason her creator, or perhaps her sponsors, envisioned. Man does not hold a monopoly on ruthless exploitation. Women have shown beyond any doubt that they are equally capable of it as well. To me, the little girl suggests this pile of bronze is nothing more than that, Bull Sh*t. No self respecting bull would hoard all assets and then enslave the rest of the population by extracting unearned rent out of them.

  3. Tourists love getting their picture taken with the bull.

    Some women and homos like taking perverted photos of themselves fondling the bull’s testicles. Or appearing to lick them. I think that changes the meaning of what the sculptor had in mind, too.

    1. My mother, being of that generation, was frequently offended by sex organs on display; be it animal or human. When she saw a horse sculpture years ago that appeared to be in a particularly good mood, she insisted the sculpture needed underwear. I was stricken with painful hilarity, but thought it would be an awesome mild act of vandalism to put underwear of different styles on nude representations across the country. I would recommend tube tops on nude breasts in the south. Maybe a retirement project.

  4. There’s a parallel in the application of the First Amendment. The only way to legitimately counter “offending” speech is with speech itself. In application here, the bull is not necessarily “offending” but another artist is essentially countering the bull’s [artist’s] speech with speech of his own. No harm. No foul. No stepping on Bulls’ Rights.

  5. Well it seems like artists are allowed to do ANYTHING they want.
    We have been degraded with piss Christ, the flagrant #pedogate collection of the Podesta brothers, and now we debate this little trophy.
    What would have really been fun is to see an artist do a Matador. And watch the PETA fireworks ensue.

    1. “Piss Christ” is one of the most beautiful photographs I’ve ever seen. Andres Serrano’s take:

      ” One of your most controversial works yet is the ‘Piss Christ’, and it portrays a crucifix submerged in urine, that is alleged to be yours. Is there a ‘message’ that this photograph is trying to convey and how did you deal with the resulting backlash that ensued after the piece was released?”

      The only message is that I’m a Christian artist making a religious work of art based on my relationship with Christ and The Church. The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to dead, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if “Piss Christ” upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning. There was a time prior to the 17th century when the only important art, the only art that mattered, was religious art. After that, there were very few contemporary art pieces that were considered both art and religious, and “Piss Christ” is one of them.

      “Your art has been seen as starting a very important conversation about the tensions between freedom of religion and artistic freedom of speech and expression. Can you comment on the tensions between these two values, and a balance of these tensions, or do you see them as not existing at all in your pieces?”

      “Freedom of religion and freedom of expression have something in common: they both have the power to polarize people. Everyone has an opinion on these freedoms and those opinions often clash. It’s the result of living in a Democracy where the people don’t always share the same values or opinions. That’s why it’s called a Democracy, because you are free to choose”.

  6. A great mind once said, “The solution to free speech one doesn’t like is more free speech.”

    Same great mind expressed disappointment when German Chancellor, Angela Merkel caved in to Turkish president, Erdogan’s request to ban a satirist in Germany, Jan Böhmermann, who made fun of Erdogan.
    How can one form of free speech be subject to requirements of distance and not another? Doesn’t Böhmermann’s free spech conflict with Erdogan’s ability and artistic right to be a slime bucket?

    So which is it? Free speech next to free speech, or exceptions when the free speech involved is about the two most taboo things to criticize in the United States, M-O-N-E-Y and Wall Street. Then, and only then, let no man or woman get in its way with, gasp, more free speech that in any way might be construed as critical.

    1. or exceptions when the free speech involved is about the two most taboo things to criticize in the United States, M-O-N-E-Y and Wall Street.

      If you fancy criticism of either is the least bit taboo in any forum, you need to bathe and spend some time outside of mama’s basement.

      1. Ha,ha,ha,ha…

        If you fancy criticism of either is the least bit taboo in any forum, you need to bathe and spend some time outside of mama’s basement.

        🙂 from the voice of experience no doubt, eh Toads? 🙂

        Never fear – unlike you, my mother1) was human, 2) didn’t have a basement

        As to criticism of Wall St. and where it gets you, peddle your fantasy to members of Occupy Wall St.

        1. peddle your fantasy to members of Occupy Wall St.

          Who neither bathed nor had any coherent ideas.

  7. The girl changes the intention of the bull. The issue here could be the ‘intention’ part. Art, to be art, must include the viewer. Otherwise it is advertising. One could interpret the bull all alone as out of control and dangerous, much like Wall Street. If the bull must be interpreted as a bullish market then it is advertising and the issue of the girl should be seen in that light. If you go into a museum and see your painting hanging next to one that, in your mind, reduces some interpretation of its value, you don’t get to sue to have it moved.

    By arguing that the girl changes the intention of the bull, the sculptor negated his argument.

    However, this is that part of the law that entertains. Let the lawsuits roll on. Perhaps someone should be working on a third piece, something to illustrated the legal system.

  8. The idea that the artist gets to control the entire geographic area surrounding his art work is ridiculous. No one has mutilated his bull!

    His argument that the bull was not intended to mean POWER is ridiculous. It’s called the CHARGING BULL for gods sake!. Who amongst us would not be afraid of the power of a charging bull if we met one on the street…it could mutilate us or kill us. Interestingly the stock market ant it’s manipulator almost did…and many are still suffering from the charging of the bull.

    As to DwBlasio…the bull could just as easily be him the way he bullies community groups and residents who disagree with him.

  9. The juxtaposition of one art work next to another does not change the effect of the work. I vote they both stay. Satire and parody are a freezone under the statute, and that is where I would go.

    1. I don’t agree with you Paul. This is a three dimensional piece of artwork, and it’s “canvas” includes a certain compositional area. It’s kind of like putting a snicker bar on Christ’s plate in the Last Supper or something… You could do it, but it would become a new art object at the same time as it was re-interpreted.

      1. I think Christ’s plate, and Christ and the meaning of the last supper would hold up quite well to the childish placement of the sinkers bar. There is no historical data I am aware of that Christ lacked a sense of humor.

        A saint who is always sad, is a sad saint indeed.

        1. Brooklin Bridge – considering the monks built a door through the Last Supper, I don’t think a Snicker bar is a major problem. 🙂

        2. Yes, probably have more context in this time period, but it is a change to the composition that does change how it is perceived. It could actually be a very nice addition and would make it relevant to today. But again, it would become a different art object altogether. Like a Warhol treatment.

      2. slohrss29 – have you every been to a sculpture garden? Each sculpture actual stands on its own regardless of how close it is to another. And, as I said, if they don’t buy that argument, then satire and parody are protected under the statute.

        1. Paul, Come on, you know there is a difference between sculptures that have no relation to one another placed within proximity vs. using a pre-existing sculpture as a back drop to a new one. I’m sure many artists would be upset in a garden if their sculptures were put in first and other artists could add theirs referencing the ones that came before. Would this be any different than someone taking “Star Wars” as is and putting on an extra ending? I think Lucas would have an issue with that.

          1. Jim22 – George Lucas already made structural changes to Star Wars, ruining it for purists. Lucas should not be allowed near a camera or a script. Lucas has no leg to stand on. And God knows how many parodies have been written about Star Wars.

            1. Paul, I can guarantee that if you used Star Wars verbatim and added to the ending, you would be sued.

              1. Jim22 – I know that I would be sued. However, at trial, I could get enough experts in to show that Lucas already tampered with the film changing it structurally and that it therefore was fair use.

        2. This is very true though, but I think we can argue that this object was placed based on changing subject matter, and not as an accompanying, space-sharing stand-alone piece of artwork.

          1. slohrss29 – you can counter-argue that an artist does not control all space near his temporary installation.

            1. Paul, that is also very true. Being a design of 2D still and motion, part of the demand of sculptural representation is how well it can “work” in it’s intended environment. Maybe we can say the bull is not entirely successful as an art object. Hmmmmmm.

              1. slohrss29 – Frank Lloyd Wright said that if people buy it, it is art. However, neither of these pieces were bought, they are temporary installations. They still belong to the artists.

    2. Paul, you are applying your own take on the situation. But you have to look at this case in the context of the law that Professor Turley cited: 17 U.S. Code § 106A – Rights of certain authors to attribution and integrity.

      In particular, this law gives Di Modica, the sculptor of Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” statue, the right “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.” Thus, the question at hand is the following:

      Does juxtaposing another statue, such as the Fearless Girl statue, created by another artist, constitute an “intentional distortion” or “modification” of Di Modica’s original Charging Bull statue?

      This fact question is not as clear-cut if, instead, the Fearless Girl were mounted directly atop the Charging Bull to simulate riding it, but the argument still remains in this particular juxtaposition that the Fearless Girl statue, as currently configured, represents an “intentional distortion” and effective “modification” of Di Modica’s original statue. As others have pointed out, the Fearless Girl statue has little meaning in the absence of the Charging Bull statue, and the juxtaposition does effectively diminish the power of the Charging Bull, thus altering the meaning of Di Modica’s in a manner which is “prejudicial to [Di Modica’s] honor or reputation.”

      Consequently, although the juxtaposition of Fearless Girl to Charging Bull is not as clear-cut as the direct modification described above, it is still a sufficient enough “distortion” and “modification” of Charging Bull constitute a violation of 17 U.S. Code § 106A in my view.

      So, if you want to defend the Fearless Girl statue, in this case, you should attempt to address how juxtaposing Fearless Girl next to Charging Bull does not represent an “intentional distortion … [or other] modification of [Charging Bull that] would be prejudicial to [Di Modica’s] honor or reputation.”

      1. Ralph Adamo – considering that di Modica dumped the bull on the site without a permit, I think he is a man without honor to stand on. 🙂

  10. His claim is good. The girl statue means nothing without the bull she’s facing. It’s a deliberate distortion of the artists’ work. Turn the girl away from the bull or have it stand alone in a park; not quite the same message. DeBlasio and the left are just like that statue: they have nothing to offer apart from “defiance” and they have to falsify a narrative in order to depict themselves “heroic.” It’s a perfect allegory. Americans (even New Yorkers) have had enough of their malarkey.

    1. Perfect message, This big bad bull can’t even face the itty bitty challenge of a little girl.

      1. Perfectly nonsensical message. In the real world where we live, the big bad bull would ignore her as inconsequential or gore her to death. And, of course, ‘fearless little girls’ are the issue of the literary imagination. The phrase would only be used metaphorically in everyday life.

        1. You poor idiot. In the real world a bull wouldn’t be caught dead on a sidewalk in NYC, much less in a pose intended for nothing other than to flatter the egos of some corporate whores.

          1. much less in a pose intended for nothing other than to flatter the egos of some corporate whores.

            It’s a decorative element in a commercial neighborhood where financial sector employees work. They have their accomplishments, you don’t, so you call them ‘whores’, even though the designation makes no sense whatsoever.

            1. Ha,Ha,Ha. You’re priceless, Toads. Extracting rent from unearned assets; accomplishments. Ha 🙂 It’s no wonder you worship twisted cops so much. Your “real world” is one where bulls gore little girls on the streets of NYC.

              “you don’t” [have accomplishments]. Oh Toads, I’m crushed; the research, the perspicacity, the well supported assertions and carefully constructed argument, so typical of you…Ouch!…, but I’ll get over it. 🙂

              At least you admit it’s but a decorative piece (for those with serious ego issues – eludes you). As if the little girl didn’t make that abundantly clear.

              1. Sorry you’re an arrested development case. Can’t do much about that.

  11. Remove the girl statue. It does change the artwork covered by law or not, its just the right thing to do.

    Plus the entire reasoning behind the girl one is just stupid. Wage gap is Urban Legend spread by the mentally ill Left

    1. Obviously you are not female.
      And have never had discrimination happen to you. Not an urban legend.
      Please do a little research before you try to not enlighten us.

      1. Ter ber is right. Just ask Elizabeth Warren, whose female staffers make 71% (if my memory is correct) of the comp of her male staffers.

      2. It’s largely urban legend. The compensation gap between men and women reflects working hours, occupational choice, and different employment histories (namely greater frequency of entry into and exit from the workforce).

    2. And comments like yours are perhaps the product of the mentally ill Right.

  12. Though certainly not cast in anticipation of war, for me this statue photographed during/after the siege of Stalingrad espouses a poignancy and strength in that I might argue eclipses that of the artists’ message and motivation of the NYC statue.


  13. Unless the piece (the bull) was donated with specific requirements that it be displayed in a particular manner. I think the artist lost all control upon sale. Because he created it does not give him perpetual rights as to control and to dictate how it’s displayed. He may well feel his piece has been diminished as a result of the girl being added. He has the right to feel that way. Not to insist it be changed.

    1. Please read the article before replying. It quotes the exact statute that gives the artist those rights. Period.

    2. Actually, the artist didn’t sell it and he retains the artistic copyright. It was originally guerilla art and was installed surreptitiously and then was given “temporary” permits so it could stay (according to Wikipedia). Looks like he could win the lawsuit. Wouldn’t it be amazing if he lost his temporary permit and had to remove his bull? Little girl wins. 🙂

  14. Of all the weird places to find good stuff, Slate actually has a pretty good overview:

    Slate says the 1990 statute doesn’t cover the 1987 statue, however it does agree that the fearless girl completely obliterates the artist’s message.

    It also makes the point that fearless girl…

    > What exactly the defiant little girl says about “the moment” is up for debate. Feminists would be hard-pressed to find a better symbol of the movement’s widening class divides than Fearless Girl. Commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, a wing of a massive financial services company, Visbal’s work is meant to draw attention to the lack of women on corporate boards. As Jia Tolentino ably lays out in the New Yorker, contemporary feminism’s fixation on the incremental admission of a small number of women into traditional halls of power ignores both the vast majority of women and the ways other forms of oppression disproportionately harm women. Fearless Girl’s school of feminism, to the extent that she represents one, is shallow and apolitical. It doesn’t help that the State Street Corporation counts just three women on its board of 11, or that the company’s advertising firm chose to represent women’s career empowerment with an image of a child.

    1. As Jia Tolentino ably lays out in the New Yorker, contemporary feminism’s fixation on the incremental admission of a small number of women into traditional halls of power ignores both the vast majority of women and the ways other forms of oppression disproportionately harm women.

      The notion that women qua women are ‘oppressed’ in this country is rubbish but rubbish appealing to the word-merchant element which produces The New Yorker.

  15. If Di Modica does not prevail in this case, then I propose a reasonable compromise to balance things out.

    That compromise would entail Di Modica creating a giant Grizzly Bear statue (symbolizing a bear market) and positioning the Bear such that it is poised to maul Fearless Girl, who is oblivious to the Grizzly Bear’s giant paw which is about to strike her, as she defiantly faces off against the Bull.

    Admittedly, this triangular statue arrangement alters the meaning of the Fearless Girl statue, but two can play at this game, and that is the point of the compromise.

  16. Ridiculous. Art is open to interpretation. Proximity of separate pieces has little to do with copyright.

    You could look at them in conversation or on their own. In the latter case, the bull remains the same.

    So unless Arturo owns the land, all he has is an opinion: like everyone else.

    1. No, it’s not, the little girl statue clearly is an compositional addition to the important negative space. It’s surely a case. Maybe they should’ve thought twice about placing a bull there in the first place. In 2008 I thought it would have been a good idea to put a miniature wasteland right in front of it for the same purpose. But, with the Democrat’s SOP of keeping bankers happy, it was less outrageous to just put a little girl there to show off the meaningless social justice wars instead of the real economic ones.

        1. It’s not an ‘economic issue’. It’s not an issue at all. There’s a collection of lawyers who want a payday extracting rents from companies paying market wages, so you have this political agitation even though the complaint is spurious in essence.

  17. Artists work hard to create and protect their art (17 USC § 106A being one way). Shall we allow bullying politicians like Bill de Blasio to trample those rights? Why have law and order if elected officials in big government can trample any law they’d like?

    I cannot believe how political correctness trumps rights of artists established by law over centuries and remaining in effect to this very day.

    So happy Suzanne Nossel, ED at PEN American @PENAmerican, has chosen to speak out in favor of the rights of the bull’s artist:

    @SuzanneNossel: I’m with the bull sculptor-Finance Co can’t rewrite his work. Fearless girl can go near 1 of many still sexist banks…

  18. The artist’s legal argument has weight and could likely prevail under a strict interpretation of the United States code. However now that a mayor’s politics becomes involved, the city I suspect will engage in a fight to the bitter end. The simple solution will be to remove the new statue and perhaps create another nemesis for her to stand against.

  19. Bill de Blasio as @NYCMayor said, “We wouldn’t move the Charging Bull statue if it offended someone. The Fearless Girl is staying put.” To me, that is bullying. He is using his political power to bully the artist and bully the judges into ignoring the artist’s rights against disparagement as defined in 17 U.S. Code § 106A.

    Can you imagine if the rights of artists can be so easily stepped on by government officials, as Bill de Blasio has done here?

    Are they any legal issues of public officials violating the public trust or something when they bully people into violating laws such as 17 U.S. Code § 106A?

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