A world-famous British sculptor is suing the National Rifle Association (“NRA”). According to Sir Anish Kapoor’s complaint, which was filed in federal court in Illinois this week, the American nonprofit organization that advocates for gun rights, is on the hook for copyright infringement after featuring his Chicago-based sculpture, Cloud Glate, in a video promoting “armed violence against liberals and the media” without his knowledge or authorization.
Kapoor alleges that on June 29, 2017, NRA broadcast “on television and the internet a video recruiting advertisement entitled variously ‘The Clenched Fist of Truth’ or ‘The Violence of Lies,’ denouncing the media and the ‘liberal agenda.’” At or around the 17-second mark of the ad, Kapoor states, “a black-and-white image of Cloud Gate is shown in its entirety,” followed by a solicitation of viewers to join NRA, a dues paying organization.
The 64-year old sculptor – became known in the 1980s for his geometric or biomorphic sculptures using simple materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment and plaster – goes on to quote a Washington Post article which stated the advertisement video was “designed to provoke fear, if not incite violence.”
He further alleges that he “was shocked and outraged to learn that his sculpture had been used by the NRA to support its despicable platform of promoting violence, private ownership of all manner of firearms in the United States including military assault weapons, and using its money and political power to block any kind of meaningful gun control.”
The NRA “never asked Kapoor for permission to use Cloud Gate” – a 110-ton stainless steel sculpture with a mirror finish permanently located in Chicago's Millennium Park – and “Kapoor never granted it – and never would have granted it. After the video was made public, [Kapoor] demanded that NRA remove [the image of Cloud Gate] from the video, but NRA refused.”
In accordance with copyright law in the U.S., the copyright holder for an work of art has the exclusive right to “reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform, and display the copyrighted work publicly.” In much the same way as graffiti artists have taken to suing fashion brands for featuring their work in the background of ad campaigns and marketing materials, Kapoor claims that the NRA’s use of the sculpture in the video runs afoul of copyright law.
Kapoor is seeking statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement, with the number of infringements to be determined at trial, and has also asked for pre and post-judgment interest and compensatory damages. And, of course, he is seeking injunctive relief, which would bar the NRA from continuing to “exploit” the famous sculpture in its advertising materials.
In an open letter that Kapoor published this spring in connection with the soon-to-be-filed lawsuit, he stated, These sadly are times in which it is urgent for us all, in whatever way we can, to stand up to the dark and aggressive forces in society that seek, out of fear and hatred, to lead us backward into a primitive, paranoid, and defensive worldview.”
The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. It has previously defended “The Clenched Fist of Truth” as a call to prevent violence.
* The case is Anish Kapoor v. National Rifle Association, 18-cv-4252 (N.D. Ill.).