This past week, Banksy bid farewell to the rights to his infamous Flower Thrower. Not by choice. The European Union Intellectual Property Office closed the two-year case concluding that the artist could not secure the trademark for two main reasons. One, his anonymity. Two, seemingly his blatant disregard for IP as a whole.
Banksy filed after finding his imagery being sold and profited off of by a greeting card company. While the artist made Flower Thrower and others widely available for reuse and distribution, it was explicitly under the pretenses that no-one was to make money from it. After the suit began, under the advice of his legal team, Banksy opened a pop-up under the name Gross Domestic Product filled with work to meet a specific criteria established under EU law that would benefit his case. Unfortunately, it did the opposite. Having been transparent – and vocal – about his motivations, the office declared he was acting in bad faith and the trademark was lost. (Gross Domestic Product never opened by the way.) Combined with his work being on public buildings – not canvases – the panel was unimpressed. When you don’t play by the rules, it looks like the rules don’t protect you.
Despite the legal move which comes across as a slightly petty snub to the medium as a whole, so far it doesn’t seem to have a financial effect on the value of Banksy’s work. The recent Sotheby’s sale of 27 Banksy pieces saw a new record set for Love Is In The Air, closing on September 18th with a final sum of £214,200. The second most expensive work in the lot, the unsigned edition far exceeded its £15,000–£20,000 estimate. Maybe Banksy’s right and trademarks don’t matter as much as we’d like to think they do? The jury’s still out on that one.