Artist behind banana taped to wall can’t escape copyright infringement lawsuit

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The artist behind a viral banana sculpture taped to a wall at the 2019 Art Basel fair in Miami couldn’t immediately get rid of a lawsuit claiming he copied the artwork another artist.

The idea of ​​a banana duct glued to a wall is not copyrightable, but the specific “selection, coordination and arrangement” of the various elements of the sculpture may benefit to some degree of protection, Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. said in his Wednesday. opinion.

At this early stage in the lawsuit, artist Joe Morford has sufficiently argued that the Art Basel exhibition, known as “Comedian”, was substantially similar to his work, called “Banana & Orange”, that it registered with the Copyright Office in 2000.

“Comédien”, created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, has generated significant international press, comments and controversy. Cattelan sold three copies of the work and two proofs for over $390,000. Morford, who represents himself, sued for copyright infringement in 2021.

The judge, writing for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, found that Morford also sufficiently alleged that Cattelan had access to “Banana & Orange,” a room featuring both a banana and an orange taped to a wall with a silver conduit. ribbon.

The work has been available on YouTube since 2008, on Facebook since 2015 and on Morford’s personal website since 2016. The artist has shown that the work has been viewed in 25 different countries, Scola said.

“Banana & Orange” also met the minimum standard of originality to qualify for copyright protection, the judge said.

“Although the use of silver tape to attach a banana to a wall may not espouse the highest degree of creativity,” he said, “its absurd and grotesque nature responds to the ‘minimum degree of creativity’ necessary to qualify as an original.”

Among the copyrightable elements of Morford’s work was a similarity to “Comedian”, according to Scola. Both pieces use a single piece of silver tape that “rises left to right at an angle” that secures a banana “tilted down left to right” against a wall, he said.

A lawyer for Cattelan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cattelan is represented by Kane Kessler PC and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. Morford represents himself.

The case is Morford v. CattelanSD Fla., No. 1:21-cv-20039, 7/6/22.

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