Lawyerpalooza: when music festivals get intellectual property licensing wrong

Commercialisation is the process of bringing Intellectual Property (IP) to the market in order to be exploited: put simply, it’s how artists make money from their creations. To maintain control and balance risk against rewards, creators often use license agreements to ensure their work is used only in accordance with their wishes. So what happens when things go wrong?

Juan Marco is an artist from Los Angeles, California who has created illustrations and branding projects for the last decade. Marco’s work includes characters “inspired by musical energy — how it flows through your body when you create and listen to music.”

For the last several years, Marco has been the official designer for the popular Lollapalooza music festival. As part of this business relationship, he entered into an intlelectual licence agreement with C3 Presents, the concert promotion and artist management company responsible for Lollapalooza.

Licensing is a common way of commercialising intellectual property. A licensing agreement is simply a partnership between an intellectual property rights (IPR) owner and another user who is granted permission to use the IPRs in exchange for an agreed fee or royalty payment. This allows Marco (the licensor) to retain ownership of his work, while at the same time receiving income from C3 (the licensee).

One of the most important provisions of the agreement concern the scope of the licensee’s rights, covering (1) which IPRs are being licensed, (2) exclusivity, and (3) the extent of the licence. “Extent” in this context simply details if the IP can only be used for certain activities, events, or within certain territiories.

The original licence was for the non-exclusive use of various illustrations for Lallopalooza events in Chicago, USA and Santiago, Chile for three years. However, in a recent lawsuit filed in California District Court, Marco argues that his illustrations have been used outside of the original scope as agreed in the licence.

The alleged infringement includes using and modifying the artwork in unauthorised ways, as well as using it in locations beyond Chicago and Santiago. For example, Marco’s artwork is used in connection with the Lollapalooza event in Paris, as seen on the Lollaparis website. Additionally, Marco accuses C3 of sub-licensing his artwork to other users without his permission, in order to manufacture and create products which are similar or substantially similar to Marco’s original artwork.
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Marco is therefore claiming for copyright infringement, together with vicarious and contributory copyright infringement. In the first claim, he alleges that he has suffered substantial damages – both general and special – to his business. He notes that the Defendants have profited as a direct result of their “wilful, intentional and malicious” copyright infringement, and is asking for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.

In his second claim, Marco alleges that the C3 and the other Defendants are vicariously liable for the infringement carried out by other parties. The lawsuit states that the Defendants “knowingly induced, participated in, aided and abetted in and profited from the illegal reproduction and subsequent sales” of his artwork.

By alleging contributory copyright infringement, Marco is asking the Court to consider the Defendant’s secondary liability. To be found guilty of this offence, the Defendants must have reasonably known, or had reason to know, of the infringement. Marco asserts that under the original licence agreement, the Defendants had both the right and ability to supervise the copying of Marco’s artwork, but nevertheless failed to prevent infringement. The Defendants also benefited financially as a direct result of the infringement by other parties, and therefore must have known of the illegal copying in the first instance.

It is interesting to note that Marco is not seeking any damages in respect of harm done to his reputation. By his own admission, Marco has previously collaborated with big names in the music industry, as well as freelance work for record labels and bands. Rather, Marco is suing C3 because of the ways in which his artworks were used in contravention to the original licence agreement. No matter the payments or promotion involved, it is important to remember that permission to use artwork usually comes with very specific strings attached.

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