Google and Mr. Brainwash Sued for Copyright Infringement by Photographer’s Estate

The estate of photographer James J. Marshall is suing Google and street artist Mr. Brainwash for copyright infringement. The estate claims that Mr. Brainwash — most famous for his role as antagonist in the Banksy documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” — inappropriately borrowed from Marshall’s series of portraits of musicians for his own, similar series, according to the Web site Paid Content.

Google got roped into the suit after using Mr. Brainwash’s images as a backdrop at a launch party for its new music service, Google Music. (Thanks to the Art Law Blog for pointing us to this lawsuit.) The precise similarities between Marshall’s photographs of music legends like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Jimi Hendrix and Mr. Brainwash’s works are difficult to determine because the lawsuit, which includes the relevant images, (accessible here) is reproduced in black and white. It appears Brainwash added splashes of color to the images and emblazoned the world “Sold” in black letters across a few of them.

According to the complaint, Google is as liable for infringement as Mr. Brainwash because it reproduced his images knowing that they would financially benefit the company in some way. (It bears noting that because the images were used for promotional purposes at a kickoff party, direct financial benefit may be difficult to trace.) Marshall’s estate is suing both the tech giant and the street artist for damages as well as for an injunction forbidding further sale or reproduction of the images.

This isn’t Mr. Brainwash’s first time in hot water over copyright issues. Last year, he lost a similar suit brought by photographer Glen Friedman, who alleged the artist had ripped off his photograph of RunDMC.

Julia Halperin