Wall Street's 'Charging Bull' Artist Threatens Lawsuit Over 'Fearless Girl' Sculpture

The sculptor of the famous “Charging Bull” statue located on Wall Street in New York demanded on Wednesday that the “Fearless Girl” statue that has been located across from against the bull since March be removed. Arturo Di Modica said his 11-foot-tall bull sculpture is supposed to represent “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love” but the addition of the “Fearless Girl” statue has turned his work’s message into something negative.

“The girl is right in front doing this, ‘Now I’m here, what are you going to do?'” Di Modica complained. According to the AP, Norman Siegel, an attorney for Di Modica, said the 4-foot-tall bronze girl was created as part of an advertising campaign for Boston-based investment firm State Street Global Advisors and its placement opposite the bull exploits the earlier sculpture for commercial gain and negates its positive message.

“The placement of the statue of the young girl in opposition to ‘Charging Bull’ has undermined the integrity and modified the ‘Charging Bull,'” Siegel said. “The ‘Charging Bull’ no longer carries a positive, optimistic message. Rather it has been transformed into a negative force and a threat.”

Artist Kristen Visbal’s "Fearless Girl" - a statue of a girl with her hands on her hips - was placed on a traffic island facing the bull on March 7. Initially intended as a temporary installation celebrating International Women’s Day in March, city officials have held that it may remain through February 2018 given its popularity amongst tourists and locals, alike. Siegel said his attorneys sent letters requesting the girl’s removal to Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and the CEOs of State Street and its advertising firm, McCann Worldgroup.

State Street spokeswoman Anne McNally said the firm is reviewing the letter. Siegel said he hopes the dispute can be resolved amicably but noted, “We never dismiss the possibility of litigation.”

Does Di Modica Have a Case? 

What exactly would Di Modica's claims be in connection with the Fearless Girl? And how good of a case does he have? Well, according to Nicholas O'Donnell of Sullivan & Worcester LLP,  the artist does not have strong copyright infringement claims there, largely because "nothing was copied here." O'Donnell notes, "As a matter of interpretation, it is certainly reasonable to view the two sculptures as part of a single conversation. But that is an act of expression, not of copying. Placement in proximity may well be intentional, but it is not copying." 

He elaborated, noting: "Reference to another work of visual work is not a derivative work [derivative works are a form of copyright infringement]. A vast spectrum of art would be prohibited by the Copyright Act if it were. And there is not a single component of The Fearless Girl that shares any element of Charging Bull. To state the obvious: one is a bovine, one is a human." 

Even if Di Modica did have a strong copyright infringement claim, State Street Global Advisors might just be able to beat the case by way of the fair use defense. Per O'Donnell, "The placement of Visbal’s work is explicitly a comment or criticism of Charging Bull. So even if it were somehow infringing, it would be protected."