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French Appellate Court Nails Artist Jeff Koons For Copyright Infringement and Damages

By Barry Werbin

The famous appropriation artist Jeff Koons didn't have U.S. copyright "fair use" to try and hide behind in this significant French copyright case. In late February 2021, a French appellate court affirmed a lower court's decision holding Koons and the Centre Pompidou liable for copyright infringement. A French photographer, Frank Davidovici, sued in 2015, alleging that Koons had copied a photo created by Davidovici for an advertising campaign he produced for the clothing brand Naf-Naf in 1985. Koons had created a sculpture (called "Fait d'hiver") in 1988, depicting a woman lying in snow next to a pig wearing a ring of roses and a barrel around its neck, with penguins nearby. Davidovici's photo also depicted a female model lying in the snow in a similar position with a pig wearing a barrel around its neck (Koons added flowers and the penguin). Davidovici first saw Koons' sculpture in a 2014 catalog for Koons' retrospective show, which opened at the Whitney in NYC and later traveled to the Centre Pompidou in France. In 2018, a Parisian court found in favor of Davidovici and awarded him damages of approximately $153,000. The appellate court not only affirmed the infringement ruling, but increased the damages to approximately $231,000.

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