Copyrights may be for losers but trademarks are not – Banksy won a trademark dispute

The well-known graffiti artist Banksy has received some positive news recently regarding his attempt to take advantage of the IP system while not liking it or at least the copyright in particular.

The case concerns the following registered EU trademark, representing graffiti art painted by Banksy, in classes 9, 16, 25, 28 и 41:

The mark was registered by Pest Control Office Limited, a company managing artists’ legal rights, taking into account that he is anonymous and is famous with that status apart from his exciting artworks.

Against this mark, a request for invalidation was filed by Full Colour Black Limited on the ground of lack of distinctive character and bad faith.

The EUIPO Cancelation division invalidated the mark finding that it was made in bad faith. The reason for this was the fact that because of his anonymity the artist was unable to rely on copyright protection. What’s more, he is famous for his statement that copyright is for losers.

In another article, Banksy says “Sometimes you go to work and it’s hard to know what to paint, but for the past few months I’ve been making stuff for the sole purpose of fulfilling trademark categories under EU law”.

The Office considered all of this as the only reason why the artist wanted to register a trademark for his art, which will give him a tool to control its commercial use.

According to the Office:

From an examination of the evidence filed by both parties, it would appear that, at the time of filing of the application for invalidity, the EUTM proprietor (or Banksy) had never actually marketed or sold any goods or services under the contested EUTM. Moreover, some of the EUTM proprietor’s webpage extracts dated in 2010-2011 state that ‘All images are made available to download for personal amusement only, thanks. Banksy does not endorse or profit from the sale of greeting cards, mugs, t-shirts, photo canvases etc. …’, ‘Banksy does not produce greeting cards or print photo-canvases….Please take anything from this site and make your own (non-commercial use only thanks)’ and ‘Banksy has never produced greeting cards, mugs or photo canvases of his work’. Therefore, there is no evidence that Banksy was actually producing, selling or providing any goods or services under the contested sign prior to the date of filing of the contested EUTM.

The first evidence of sales appears to have happened just before the date of filing of the present application for a declaration of invalidity.

Taking all of that the Office considered that the mark was filed in bad faith.

The Board of Appealed, however, disagreed. According to the Board, the conclusion of the Consolation division was subjective. Bad faith cannot be assumed only based on single statements that do not show the entire position of the artist.

The Board cannot follow this view. Although the protection under copyright law is definite and ends 70 years after the death of the author whereas trade mark protection can in principle be indefinite, this circumstance does not mean that the
filing of a trademark consisting of a creation protected under copyright law is automatically unlawful and circumvents the copyright law. As stated above under paragraph 27, the same artwork can be protected by copyright as well as by trademark law.

The assumption that the need of staying anonymous was the reason to opt out from copyright protection and go for trademark protection, as submitted by the Cancellation applicant, even if it would be correct, cannot justify a finding that the
EUTM proprietor had no intention to use the contested mark.

Finally, the statement ‘Copyright is for losers’ has no bearing at all on the case at hand. The contested decision does not reason sufficiently about its finding of bad faith. It mainly bases its final findings on the supposition that the EUTM proprietor could
only with difficulties preventing its artwork under copyright and on the fact that it started only on October 2019 to use its mark and with the purpose to maintain the contested mark but not to use it according to the essential functions of a trademark.

The contested decision bases its finding on wrong facts because it has not been shown that on October 2019 the EUTM proprietor stated to use the contested mark. In any event, the reasons furnished in the contested decision cannot explain nor indicate that at the relevant filing date the EUTM proprietor had not intended to use its mark

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