Volkswagen in Demark is being sued for misuse of Ai Weiwei’s artwork on Kunsthal Charlottenborg’s facade
3.500 life jackets installed on Kunsthal Charlottenborg's facade was in 2017 used for an advertisement for Volkswagen without authorization. Now Ai Weiwei, the artist behind the artwork ‘Soleil Levant’, is suing the German car company, who will be brought to trial in Denmark. The judicial proceedings will be of great significance for all artists who work in Denmark as an issue of principle.
The opening of Ai Weiwei’s (b. 1957 in Beijing, China) new installation, produced specifically for Kunsthal Charlottenborg and Copenhagen, took place on United Nations International Refugee Day (June 20 2017). Titled Soleil Levant, the installation barricades the windows of Kunsthal Charlottenborg with more than 3500 salvaged life jackets collected from refugees arriving at the Greek Island of Lesbos.
In the same year Ai Weiwei’s artwork was misused in a VW advertisement without authorization from the artist or Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Now it is brought to trial in Denmark, where the Attorney of the state will lead the case for Ai Weiwei.
The judicial proceedings will not only be of importance for Ai Weiwei, but will be determining for future protection of all artists’ rights in the public sphere in Denmark. Kunsthal Charlottenborg is a part of The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and the lawsuit will therefore also be of significance in relation to the protection of the students and future artists against misuse of their art works in commercial contexts.
Sunday March 10 Ai Weiwei describes in a Instagram post the legal proceedings that he has launched against Volkswagen Denmark:
I am suing Volkswagen in Denmark for violating my intellectual property and moral rights. My artwork “Soleil Levant” (2017), which I created for World Refugee Day, was installed at Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg from June 20 to October 1, 2017. The work comprises 3,500 lifejackets used by refugees who fled to Lesvos, Greece, escaping persecution and conflict.
In October 2017 Volkswagen Denmark used an unauthorized photo of “Soleil Levant” in an ad for its VW Polo campaign. I was not credited as the artist, and my artwork image was uncredited and cropped without permission. The infringing material was circulated to over 200,000 people, giving the false impression that I had authorized Volkswagen to use my artwork in its ad for the new Polo.
I was astonished by Volkswagen’s brazen violations of my intellectual property and moral rights. Since November 2017 I have been trying to resolve the matter with Volkswagen. In more than one year of fruitless negotiation, they only engaged in arrogant gestures to trivialize their guilt and dismiss the matter.
Intellectual property protection lies at the heart of a society that values human invention and makes our useful accumulation of knowledge possible. Respect of intellectual property law is one cornerstone of a functioning international legal system. As one of the largest European companies, Volkswagen should understand these same laws. Volkswagen and other multinational corporations have tremendous bargaining power in intellectual property protection as well as environmental and human rights. They are not above the law.
Human rights, like intellectual property, is a popular concept but one that is difficult to enforce. We should remember that Germany took in one million refugees in 2015, a powerful humanitarian act in a divided world. As one of Germany’s internationally most visible companies, Volkswagen’s disregard for fair play and humanitarian issues is truly disturbing.