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Mercedes Used Murals In Their Ads, Then Sued The Artists Who Made Them

  • mercedes benz murals detroit
  • The Now-Deleted Mercedes Benz Instagram Post Featuring The Mural
April 3, 2019
Passionate about art, frequent visitor of exhibitions, Widewalls photography specialist.

One of the oldest and largest year-round public markets in the United States, Detroit’s Eastern Market is also home to over 125 murals. Among them, one can also find works painted by artists like Daniel Bombardier aka Denial, Jeff Soto, James “Dabls” Lewis and Maxx Gramajo, thanks to the annual Murals in the Market Festival.

The murals by these four artists could have also been seen as backdrops of a new ad for the Mercedes G 500 vehicle. The car company had used them without permission on their official Instagram account, which is why the four artists filed a lawsuit.

In turn, they got sued themselves, by the very same German automaker, for nothing less than – copyright infringement. Mercedes-Benz is asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to rule that they the right to use the artwork in Instagram posts.

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I painted this mural in Detroit the city I grew up in and love. I painted this with some of my own money and my friends (@muralsinthemarket) support. It tells a small part of a larger story about Detroit and what this city has gone though and the struggles and also the beautiful things I see happening here. To see this piece used in an advertisement, ironically a car advertisement is very disheartening and shameful. I had hoped that @mercedesbenzusa would have had the respect for artists to simply compensate us for the illegal use of our mural work. We all know they have the wherewithal to do so. This lawsuit is another attack on the creative community and we are asking please help share this message with us. We all want public art and we want to change our world, we cannot do this if our work is not given value and protected. Thank you eaveryone. @muralsinthemarket @1xrun @glucklawfirm @detroitfreepress (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/2019/04/01/mercedes-sues-artists-over-eastern-market-murals/3330608002/). #denial #enjoydenial #danielbknbardier #mercedesbenz #lawsuit #bullshit #protectartistsrights #1xrun #muralsinthemarket #jeffgluck #sueme

A post shared by Enjoy Denial. (@denialart) on

Mercedes-Benz vs Street Artists

It was January 2018 when the Mercedes-Benz advertisement featuring the murals first saw light of day on Instagram. In a series of photos, we see the G 500 model driving past the murals in the Eastern Market, Detroit.

After taking the photos off their Instagram profile in the meantime out of “courtesy”, the company then filed a counter-suit, arguing that their campaign did not infringe the artists’ copyrights and that it will fight “an aggressive shakedown effort”, according to Detroit News. Mercedes also claims that the focus of their images was the vehicle itself, and not the art behind it, and that they also employed efforts to “fundamentally transform the visual aesthetic and meaning” of said works by partly blurring them.

Roula David, executive director of Murals in the Market festival, said that the lawsuit is “particularly offensive” as Mercedes had already contacted them in the past to license other murals for similar ad campaigns.

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A mural that @maxxer242 and I created was used by @mercedesbenz in their advertising without our permission or knowledge. We attempted to discuss the matter with them, but instead, they sued us claiming they did not violate any copyright laws and are asking the court to rule that we have no rights against them. In fact, they filed these lawsuits secretly while we were still talking with them and waiting to hear back from them. The Detroit News had been given copies of the lawsuits before Mercedes even gave copies to us. This is very similar to the H&M case with @_revok_ . If Mercedes Benz were to win this case it would set a very, very dangerous precedent for companies to use artist’s work without permission, wherever and however they like. This is much bigger than Maxx and I and will impact ALL artists!! 👁🙏👁 Please share… #artistsrights #mercedesbenz

A post shared by Jeff Soto (@jeffsotoart) on

A Question of Copyright, But Not Just

These lawsuits represent only the latest in the series of attempts to protect the integrity of public art and its creators.

”If courts were to adopt Mercedes’ argument, it could destroy artists’ rights for thousands of important and beautiful public works of art,” said Jeff Gluck, attorney for the four artists. ”Companies would [then] be free to use and exploit murals to sell their products, without needing to compensate the artists or even ask their permission.”

Aside from the now famous Revok vs H&M saga, other cases have been battling a similar battle as well. In 2018, Adrian Falkner aka Smash137 sued General Motors for using his Detroit mural in their ads. This trial was moved forward in September.

Many other street artists stood in support of Denial, Jeff Soto, James “Dabls” Lewis and Maxx Gramajo, including MadC, who stated:

Public art has become an important and beautiful attraction in cities around the world. Mercedes’ actions could scare artists into not wanting to make any artwork outdoors for fear that big companies will use and exploit their work without permission, and we must never let that happen. We are dedicated to fighting against this type of oppression and we stand alongside the global artist community against Mercedes’ bullying.