“Fearless Girl” Statue Triggers Intellectual Property Dispute

  • Aug 19 2017
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  • Category: News

To commemorate International Woman’s Day in March, State Street Global Advisors commissioned Kristen Visbal’s “Fearless Girl” statue and obtained a permit from New York City to place it in front of the “Charging Bull” sculpture in Bowling Green Park. Now, the bull’s creator is demanding that “Fearless Girl” be removed.

In cease-and-desist letters sent to the city and companies that sponsored the work, attorneys for sculptor Arturo Di Modica argued that “Fearless Girl” violates his intellectual property rights as the bull’s creator. The letters site federal copyright and trademark law as well as a law that protects the integrity of visual works of art.

A Brief History of “Charging Bull”

In 1989, Di Modica sculpted “Charging Bull” and placed it in front of the New York Stock Exchange without the city’s approval. The Parks Department subsequently moved the work to the Bowling Green location, a tiny piece of real estate in lower Manhattan, where “Charging Bull” remains today. After “Fearless Girl” made its debut in March, the statue reportedly became a hit with the public, and Mayor Bill de Blasio decided the statue will remain until February 2018.

Sculptor’s Copyright and Trademark Rights

According to the cease and desist letters, placing the new statue in the park was tantamount to creating an unauthorized derivative work which violates Di Modica’s copyright interest in his sculpture because “Fearless Girl” modified and undermined the integrity of “Charging Bull.”

Di Modica’s attorneys also argued that “Fearless Girl” violates his right to preserve the integrity of his work under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). They claim that “Charging Bull” was intended to carry a “positive and optimistic message,” which has now been transformed into a “negative force and a threat.”

Lastly, the letters also contend that State Street and advertising company McCann Worldgroup violated Di Modica’s trademark rights by appropriating the “Charging Bull” statute to promote a State Street financial product named “SHE.” When “Fearless Girl” was placed in front of the bull, there was also a plaque with this inscription: “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.”

According to a statement released by State Street, however, the “Fearless Girl” statue was designed to be a powerful symbol to remind corporations “that having more women in leadership positions contributes to overall performance and strengthens our economy.”

The Takeaway

At this juncture, a lawsuit has not been filed, and Di Modica hopes to settle the dispute without going to court. However, the extent to which federal trademark and copyright law and VARA protects Di Modica in this situation remains unclear. Nonetheless, this story highlights how the complexities involved in protecting trademarks and copyrights demand the advice and counsel of experienced intellectual property attorneys.