Doing some research for a piece this week, I came across the Twitter account for artist Damien Hirst. But it was not the British artist and Young British Artists member (pictured below), who is known for his artwork, which often incorporates skulls, preserved animals and/or spin paintings. It was the account for the "Slovenian Damien Hirst" (hereinafter, "Slovenian Hirst"). Apparently, in 2009 some Slovenian artist decided to adopt the name, Damien Hirst, and start using it as his own. This Slovenian Hirst explains his name choice, citing parody and saying: "By simply choosing the name of a famous artist and using it as his own, he became an artist." The Slovenian Hirst claims that he has been confused online for Damien Hirst. To this we ask, trademark infringement?
image courtesy of damien hirst
Turns out, Slovenian Hirst sent an email to White Cube, Damien Hirst’s London gallery, in 2010, seeking approval of his use of Hirst's name. Slovenian DH wrote: “I am not legal professional but I don’t think using a common human name can be a legal offence, especially if you don’t claim to be someone you are not. I just want to know if Damien Hirst would approve of this.” To this, Slovenian Hirst received a reply, which altered him that the name Damien Hirst is trademarked and that neither White Cube nor Hirst approve of his activities.
The most basic interpretation of the Slovenian Hirst's actions is that he is working under the name of an enormously famous, world-renowned artist. Hirst is one of the wealthiest living artists in the world; he is the wealthiest in the U.K. Another simple interpretation: the Slovenian artist is riding the coat-tails and banking on the confusion of consumers in making his name (no pun intended). He is working within the same field/class of goods as the original Hirst, which is undeniably problematic for trademark purposes. Because it seems that there hasn't been a major lawsuit between the two same-named artists, the Slovenian Hirst's theory of parody has not been put to the test yet. While a court's determination of whether something amounts to a parody is often difficult to predict, I think it is especially trying in this case because we have art on our hands. What do you think?