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Mercedes-Benz suing Detroit street artists who created the murals used in their advertisements

Written by Sena Tokel, student from Solent University on 05 April 2019

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Following threats by the creators to sue for copyright infringement, Mercedes-Benz USA is suing four Detroit-based street artists whose graffiti was used by the car company in an advertising campaign on Instagram.

In January last year, the automobile makers posted photos on their Instagram profile, advertising the luxury Mercedes G 500 vehicle. The photos posted which have since been deleted (in which the suit claims was done out of courtesy), featured murals and graffiti created by the street artists. The murals included some which were in the Eastern Market of Detroit where the artists had produced over 100 art works through a program called ‘Murals in the Market’.

The suit filed on Friday claims the four artists threatened the carmakers with a copyright infringement lawsuit and was made in order to ‘get a resolution of these baseless threats.’

In its suit, parent company of Mercedes Daimler stated that they had obtained ‘proper’ permits for the shoot and the images in the post “fundamentally transformed the visual aesthetic and meaning” of the murals. The carmakers argued that the photos do not show the majority of the murals in which they were significantly blurred out. The suit further states that the images aim was to draw the viewer’s focus immediately to the G 500, not the mural” therefore, the post was aimed to heighten the performance of the automobile, not the meaning of the artwork.

Attorney Jeff Gluck who represents the four artists says, “The artist owns the copyright to the art and no one else, not Murals in the Market, Eastern Market Corp., nor the city of Detroit”.

This issue in this case is not without precedent. Also in Detroit, late last year saw General Motors being sued by Swiss graffiti artist Adrian Falkner over an advertisement that incorporated his outdoor mural.

The case gives thought as to whether graffiti artists should have the safeguard of copyright laws in the instances where their outdoor art work is used by companies without their permission.

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