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Jeff Koons sued for copyright infringement in ‘Made in Heaven’ series

Koons has been sued by Michael Hayden, an artist who worked in Italy in the 80s designing sets - over copyright of coiled snake sculpture featured in Made in Heaven series.

by STIRworldPublished on : Aug 09, 2022

Given the current state of the world, with plagiarism, art protests, and other issues, it is not surprising that a well-known artist would be accused of taking another artist's notion for his own work.

Artist Jeff Koons is again in the news for alleged copyright infringement after a federal judge in the United States denied his motion to dismiss a lawsuit involving his iconic Made in Heaven series. Michael Hayden filed the newest case against the visual artist in December, alleging that Koons violated his copyright by inserting into the collection an "original sculptural piece" picturing a gigantic snake wrapped around a rock. Hayden's case "sufficiently alleges a valid claim of copyright," ruled district judge Lorna Schofield in last month's judgment.

Jeff Koons with his muse Cicciolina Ilona Staller from the series Made in Heaven, 1989 Image: Courtesy of getparlor on Instagram

Hayden is a film, live performance set and prop designer. It is being reported that he created the sculpture as an artwork in 1988. Hayden claims he sold the sculpture to Ilona Staller, known by her stage name Cicciolina, and her manager's firm, Diva Futura. The original purchase price was not mentioned in court documents. However, Hayden claims that he kept all copyrights to the work and did not transfer authorship, copyright ownership, or sublicensing rights to Diva Futura or anyone else, and that he did not intend for anybody other than Cicciolina, her manager, and Diva Futura to commercially utilise the song. Pace Gallery, who represents Koons, has not published any statement so far.

According to reports, Koons came to Italy multiple times in 1989 to be photographed with Cicciolina. The photos were used as inspiration for the sculptures, photography, and paintings in the Made in Heaven series. Three images from the group are identified as “infringing works” by Hayden's lawyers: a 1989 lithograph commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art and displayed as a billboard in downtown New York City; a polychromed wood sculpture featuring a three-dimensional replica of the original work; and an oil-on-canvas painting titled Jeff in the Position of Adam (1990).

Made in Heaven: Self-Portrait ,1991, Sculpture (front) and Made in Heaven,1989, lithograph on paper on canvas (back) | STIRworld
Made in Heaven: Self-Portrait, 1991, sculpture (front) and Made in Heaven, 1989, lithograph on paper on canvas (back) Image: Fred Romero on Flickr

According to the lawsuit, the works were presented in museum and gallery shows across the world and sold to collectors despite the fact that Koons never credited Hayden for the image, paid a licence price, or requested image permissions. According to Hayden's attorneys, the works are also shown on Koons' website, identifying him as the artist and copyright owner "without crediting any share of copyright ownership to."

The lawsuit further mentions that Hayden discovered the infringement in April 2019, when he came across an Italian news article that displayed an image of one of the works. In summary, Judge Schofield called Hayden’s work "a sculptural work of artistic craftsmanship, lacking any readily ascertainable intrinsic utilitarian function."

Made in Heaven sculpture by Jeff Koons depicting Michael Hayden’s snake idea Image: Courtesy of rakebab on Instagram

However, the court agreed to Koons' move for a decision that would restrict the damages to the three-year period before the litigation, reducing the monetary worth of Hayden's claims if he won the lawsuit. The artist has been accused of stealing another artwork in 1989, and he lost a long-running court struggle in March seeking to show that a sculpture he did not create.

Koons was found guilty of plagiarism in 2018, with a Paris court ordering him to pay $168k to the designer of a bizarre ad starring a rescue pig and a frozen model.

Balloon Dog By Jeff Koons at The Broad in Downtown, Los Angeles | STIRworld
Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons at The Broad in Downtown, Los Angeles Image: Courtesy of Thad Zajdowicz on Flickr

Koons was born in 1955 in York, Pennsylvania. He attended Baltimore's Maryland Institute College of Art and Chicago's School of the Art Institute. In 1976, he obtained a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He currently resides and works in New York City. Works by Koons, who is recognised across the globe for his shiny sculptures that typically centre on popular culture and conceptions of artifice, often sell for millions of dollars and can be seen in the world's best museums. Balloon Dog, Rabbit, Michael Jackson and Bubbles are some of his prominent works.

Jeff Koons and Ciccilina in Italy for Made in Heaven art series’ photoshoot Image: Courtesy of aesthetic_revolution on Instagram

(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))

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