I just got my first “Cease and Desist” order, in an email claiming to be from a lawyer defending the rights of Angry Birds.
It happened just after I sent the following sketch to some painting companies in Dafen China, in a project aiming to explore whether fine art can be outsourced. Obviously, somebody turned me in. And yet, if you’ve paid attention to the international fine art market for the past several years, especially the Asian fine art market and major trade shows, it seems a painting is hardly complete without a Doraemon, Hello Kitty, or some other international famous pop icon/cartoon figure – this includes the angry birds characters, which I’ve seen a handful of times in fine art paintings, being sold by galleries representing artists from Asian countries. I have to wonder, does everyone get the cease and desist order, or just me? I remember in my first art class in high school, the teacher was very careful and scrupulous about teaching us copyright laws.
And it’s only recently that I’ve begun incorporating pop culture icons – because it seems to be the “thing to do” if you want your art to sell.
I imagine if I sell the painting, it would be infringement – is it also even if I never plan to sell the painting? If I do it as “art for art’s sake”?
Anyway, these are definitely interesting questions for fine artists and fine art galleries.
Here’s the letter:
To whom it may concern
It has been brought to our attention that your business has been marketing, selling or otherwise making available products or services that may infringe Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s copyrights and trademarks in the software game “Angry Birds” and related merchandise.
We have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. We assure that the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that we are authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
Location of potential infringement:
The game Angry Birds is developed and published by a Finnish company Rovio Entertainment Ltd. All intellectual property rights to Angry Birds are owned by Rovio Entertainment Ltd, including but not limited to copyright to the game characters and internationally registered trademarks. Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s copyright to the Angry Birds game characters and international trademark registrations of the word “ANGRY BIRDS” and international trademark registration of the graphical representation of the game characters provides Rovio Entertainment Ltd with certain proprietary rights. This includes the right to restrict the use of copyrighted works and/or trademarks, or a confusingly similar works or trademarks, in association with confusingly similar products or services.
Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s trademark registrations include, but are not limited to registration of graphical representation of game character by European Union Community Trademark (no: 009205221) and international trademark registration in several jurisdictions (no: 1052865) including United States (WO 1052865) and China (WO 1052865).
Your use of Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s copyright and/or registered trademarks is likely to confuse consumers and/or lessen the distinctiveness of Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s brand. Your continued use of Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s copyrights and/or registered trademarks will cause significant and irreparable damage to Rovio Entertainment Ltd
Rovio Entertainment Ltd demands that you immediately:
1. cease and desist any further use of images, emblems, logos or similar items infringing Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s copyrights in association with the manufacture, marketing, sale, distribution, or identification of your products or services; and
2. cease and desist any further use of Rovio Entertainment Ltd’s trademarks in association with the manufacture, marketing, sale, distribution, or identification of your products or services.
This is written without any prejudice. Rovio Entertainment Ltd reserves the right to claim damages as well as any other remedy under applicable copyright and trademark legislation, but we hope this issue may be resolved without any further legal actions
Should you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact us at email@example.com.
Respectfully on behalf of Rovio Entertainment Ltd,
What do you think? Obviously, they have the legal right to protect their image. On the other hand, angry birds has become such a ubiquitous element of contemporary international culture that fine art that wants to be true to life can hardly avoid incorporating it into the work. The point of the above painting was to bring the issue to a meta-level, by equating angry birds with religious icons following the “pied piper” of Steve Jobs, deified as Krishna, while also being explicit about the commercial aspect of both religio-cultic-corporations as well as fine art. Is art ever above the law?