Fashion v. artist: the Darfur handbag saga

Louis Vuitton, the high-end accessory company, is suing a Dutch artist, Nadia Plesner, for painting a likeness of one of their handbags in a work of art publicizing the conflict in Darfur. According to the artist's attorneys, the painting, "Darfurnica,"

is modeled after Picasso's Guernica and expresses the artist's surprise at the attention that is paid to nondescript celebrities like Paris Hilton, while humanitarian disasters like those in Darfur remain rather unnoticed. In the middle of the painting an African child is depicted, holding a bag. (source)

The artwork also includes portraits of Paris Hilton, Obama, and other pop culture elements, like the Facebook f.

Louis Vuitton says it's not their fault Darfur is a mess, and the bag's design is their intellectual property. They got a European court to award them damages for every day the artist displays her work - and so far, it's up to over $300K.

Hmmmmm. . . if the average purchaser of Louis Vuitton cares about the prestige of their handbags, but not the company's enforcement of intellectual property rights against an artist, does that effectively prove Plesner's point, or not?

Should artists have leeway to publicize political and social justice causes, even if they conflict with copyright or trademark law - which are, after all, supposedly intended to allow designers, artists and authors to realize the fruits of their creative labor?

Finally, note that in 2008, Louis Vuitton's CEO said,

"Louis Vuitton is a brand which has brought innovation to tradition for more than 150 years. This energy to continuously create and to renovate, whilst maintaining and honoring the history and identity of the brand, has inspired many artists, who have, in turn, inspired Louis Vuitton. Today, the House is strongly committed to the protection of artists' and designers' creativity, and has full respect for creation in all its forms."


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