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Did this Duct-Taped Banana Infringe on a Copyright?

As both a lawyer and an artist, I’m particularly interested in copyright infringement lawsuits by artists who claim that another artist stole their idea.

The latest lawsuit was filed against Maurizio Cattelan, who duct-taped a banana to the wall at Art Basel Miami in 2019 and called his piece “Comedian”.

I happened to see and photograph Cattelan’s banana art at Art Basel that year and had no idea it would eventually sell for $120,000 or that it would be the subject of a federal lawsuit.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit was artist Joe Morford. Morford claimed he came up with the idea of duct taping a banana to a canvas in 2001 in his piece entitled “Banana and Orange”.

The judge presiding over the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, granted a motion for summary judgment and dismissed Morford’s lawsuit.

Cattelan and his employee provided affidavits stating that they had never heard of Morford and were not influenced by his earlier work.

In addition, the judge found that Cattelan’s banana art contains too many differences from Morford’s earlier work. Differences include the banana used, the angle at which it is placed, the method by which it is taped to the background, the background itself and the exacting standards that Cattelan developed for his display.

What do you think? Did the judge get it right?

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