The artist Anish Kapoor sued the National Rifle Association for copyright infringement. The NRA used an image of his sculpture Cloud Gate in a promotional video called "The Violence of Lies." Kapoor wants the NRA to stop using his work in its video and he wants damages — all the profit the NRA makes when someone pays to become a member after watching the video, $150,000 in statutory damages, and attorneys fees. (Here's the complaint in Kapoor v. NRA.)
Whether the artist will be successful at using copyright law to prevent the use of his work in a way he finds extremely distasteful is likely to turn on a fair use analysis. Fair use is a defense to infringement. The NRA used Kapoor's creative work, there's no question about that. The legal question is whether it made a fair use of the sculpture when including it in its video.
At first blush, the use looks fair. The NRA made a montage video, a tiny portion of which was a time lapse sequence depicting Cloud Gate. The sculpture, also affectionately known as the Bean, is a public work in a public place. The message it sends is not something the artist should be able to control once the work is installed for the public to enjoy and interpret for themselves.
Thousands of pictures and videos are taken of the Bean daily. It has become a symbol of Chicago. Those thousands of images aren't typically used in powerful political messages, however. Even if they were, the artist may choose not to enforce his rights as against all those uses. Kapoor has chosen to enforce his rights against the NRA. The NRA's use of the sculpture in its message may not pass the fair use analysis.
Kapoor Protected His Rights and Can Enforce Them
Cloud Gate was created over the course of six years. In 2006, it was installed in Millennium Park. Even though he sold the work to the City of Chicago, he did not sell his creative rights. Kapoor protected his rights by filing for a copyright registration on his work.
Why it took him nearly 10 years to file an application for registration is a matter of pure speculation. Perhaps others were trying to exploit the popularity of his work and he wanted to be in a position to exert some control over his creation as he is doing in this case.
An artist needs a valid copyright registration in order to bring a lawsuit for infringement. Even though copyright vests in an artist at the moment of creation, without a registration, you are limited in what you can do to enforce your rights in the United States.
How and Why is the NRA Using the Bean?
The video is an advertisement which ends with a call for individuals to join the NRA, "freedom's safest place." It is filled with imagery that the NRA described on Fox News as depicting "actual leftist violence" or "the resistance" combined with language condemning it. According to the Washington Post , the video "was designed to provoke fear, if not incite violence." The New York Times considers it to be one of the "latest flash points for partisan anger."
A black and white image of Cloud Gate is seen at second 17 of the 1-minute video. The sculpture is on screen for only about 17/100ths of a second, viewed from a single angle. Just before the Bean appears, the voice over says,"[T]hey use their ex-President to endorse. . ." then the Bean is shown and the phrase is finished with the words "the resistance." The image changes before the word "resistance" is completed.
When it appears, Cloud Gate is used as a visual representation of Chicago, the political home of President Obama. President Obama is depicted as the champion of the left. When the image is combined with the voice over, Chicago becomes the home of the left's resistance movement.
Now we come to the crux of the fair use analysis, has the video added "something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering [Cloud Gate] with new expression, meaning or message . . . . " In other words, is the video transformative of the original creative work?
The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts published by the College Art Association puts the principle of transformation a slightly different and possibly more easily understood way, "Artists should avoid uses of existing copyrighted material that do not generate new artistic meaning, being aware that a change of medium, without more, may not meet this standard." Does the video give us a new artistic meaning for Cloud Gate?
Cloud Gate is used in the video to conjure Chicago in the viewer's mind. The video does not try to make Cloud Gate the symbol of the resistance. It makes Chicago, as the home of President Obama, and Obama himself, the symbol of the resistance. Cloud Gate only represents Chicago in the video, nothing more, and that is a meaning that pre-existed the video.
Even if the artist did not intend Cloud Gate to become the iconic symbol of Chicago that it has become, the video did not bring new artistic meaning to Cloud Gate. It only tapped into a meaning of the sculpture that it already had. The NRA's use of the sculpture in its video is not transformative.
Making the image of Cloud Gate black and white is not transformative. Reducing Cloud Gate to a single two-dimension view in a time lapse video is not transformation. Neither of these elements generates new artistic meaning.
This first factor in the analysis, whether the use of the Bean in its video is transformative, weighs decidedly against the NRA.
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Cloud Gate is Highly Creative
The second factor in the fair use analysis explores the nature of the copyrighted work. Highly creative work enjoys a high degree of copyright protection.
The Bean is not only highly creative, it is an extraordinarily innovative work. It captures the attention of and engages its audience in a way that has set a new standard for public art. The second fair use factor weighs in the artist's favor.
All of the Bean was Used in the Video
The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the protected work as a whole is the third fair use factor. Cloud Gate was depicted in its entirety in its environment. The whole creative work was taken and used in the video. The fact that the two dimensional image of the sculpture doesn't vary in its perspective does not change my view on that. This factor weighs in the artist's favor.
There is No Impact on the Bean's Market Value
The fourth factor in the fair use analysis is whether the use has a negative impact on the market value of the protected work. I do not know how the artist is monetizing the work other than through the initial sale to the City of Chicago, but if he were selling paper weights or Christmas tree ornaments, the video might alienate buyers on the right side of the political spectrum from purchasing. I think that's a stretch, though.
The fourth factor weighs in the NRA's favor.
Kapoor v. NRA
On balance, I believe the artist will overcome the NRA's fair use defense.
It's difficult to set aside politics in a case and at times like these, but copyright law is not meant to suppress speech. It is intended to promote creativity. Resolution of the dispute calls for application of the four factors of fair use with a balanced look at the use of the copyrighted material in context. Ultimately, a judge will be asked to decide. In the meantime, artists make fair use determinations on a daily basis as they create new work or enforce their rights.
What do you think? Is the NRA's use of Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate in its video fair or not? How would you decide Kapoor v. NRA?