Saturday, April 9, 2011

More on the MTA v. an East Village artist

The Wall Street Journal has more today more about the story we posted yesterday on the MTA v. East Village artist VH McKenzie.

Here are some excerpts from the Journal's article:

Earlier this week, she received a letter from an intern who works for the MTA's marketing and advertising division requesting she stop selling the cards and remove any MTA-branded items from, an online marketplace. Alternatively, the intern said the artist could pay the authority for a license to utilize the MTA's brand in her artwork.

The MTA uses unpaid interns to search online for trademark infringement "when they have the time," says Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the MTA.


Through close to 120 licensees, the MTA generates about $500,000 a year in revenue, or about what it expected to save from cutting one express-bus line during a round of service cuts last year. Typically, artists enter into licensing deals with the authority, giving up about 10% of net revenue.


Still, copyright lawyers say the MTA may not have a strong case.

"If all she is doing is painting over the MTA's logo with her own artistic expression, there wouldn't be any claim the MTA would have unless there's some statute that makes the card sacrosanct," says David Leichtman, a partner at New York law firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi and chairman of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. "The MTA...likely can't force her to take a licensing fee."

Previously on EV Grieve:
Is this East Village artist a threat to the sanctity of the MTA’s intellectual property?


Marty Wombacher said...

David (VH McKenzie): 1.
Goliath (MTA): 0.

VH McKenzie said...

And FYI MTA - heh - I had not sold one damn painting until you told me to stop. Nobody noticed me.

Now they are damn near sold OUT.

Back to the studio........

Thanks for the support, grieve!

Andrew said...

Yeah, I think the strongest case they had for infringement had to do with the manner she was apparently originally marketing the cards, i.e., as MetroCards. Since the MTA has a copyright on the name, it probably has a legal entitlement to basically any commercial/for-profit use of the name. So long as she removed any "before" images of the cards from her etsy account and continues to make no mention of the cards by name, I think the MTA's infringement suit is largely weakened. Although I am never convinced any case is as weak as a lawyer specializing in defending such cases assures me while speaking in hypotheticals.

esquared said...

thanks for spreading the word on this