EU rules in favor of Banksy in trademark dispute, allowing him to remain anonymous

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The European Union’s Intellectual Property Office has ruled in favor of the British street artist Banksy in a trademark dispute with the greeting card company Full Colour Black. Photo courtesy of EUIPO

Nov. 18 (UPI) — The European Union’s Intellectual Property Office has ruled in favor of the British street artist Banksy in a trademark dispute with the greeting card company Full Colour Black.

The decision by the EUIPO’s Fifth Board of Appeal reverses a 2021 decision that invalidated a trademark that had been registered in 2018 by Pest Control, the body that authenticates works by the anonymous artist, legal documents show.

The dispute centers on a 2002 stencil of a monkey with a sandwich board sign that reads, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge.”

Full Colour Black applied for a cancellation of Banksy’s trademark, claiming his work was registered “in bad faith.”

The EUPO’s Cancellation Division had declared the trademark invalid on grounds including that much of the evidence for the trademark refer to Banksy and not Pest Control, his authenticating body, but that the trademark was not applied for in his name — meaning that Banksy may have been required to lose his anonymity to keep the trademark.

Pest Control had argued “against the false narrative of Banksy as an individual as what is relevant is the corporate intention” of the EU trademark proprietor when filing the application, the documents read.

“It is also noted that as Banksy has chosen to be anonymous and cannot be identified this would hinder him from being able to protect this piece of art under copyright laws without identifying himself, while identifying himself would take away from the secretive persona which propels his fame and success,” the EUIPO said.

The EUIPO had noted at the time that the work was “disseminated widely” and that Banksy had previously spoken strongly against copyright and that his work was free to reproduce.

In the latest documents, the EUIPO said that Full Colour Black failed to show that the cancellation of the trademark was justified or that Pest Control had acted on bad faith or with “clearly dishonest behavior” when it filed for the contested mark.

Full Colour Black was ordered to bear Banksy’s costs for the proceedings.

The news came as Banksy hit out at the clothing retailer Guess for allegedly using his designs without his permission.

“They’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?” Banksy wrote on Instagram, while apparently encouraging shoplifters to target the store.

Guess has advertised a new collection of clothing with “graffiti by Banksy” which it said was created with Bradalised, a company that licenses designs by graffiti artists.

However, if Banksy were to legally challenge Guess or Brandalised over the collection, he may once again risk his anonymity.

Last week, Banksy made headlines when he unveiled a new work stenciled on the side of a shelling-damaged building in Ukraine.

The work, posted to Banksy’s Instagram account, features a side view of a human figure performing a handstand on a pile of rubble with their hair tied back into a bun in his signature stencil black-and-white stencil style.

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