Banksy, I Thought We Were Friends


I have blogged before about one of my favorite graffiti artists, Banksy. Recently there has been some buzz in the ad world about another provocative work attributed to him. It involves a well-known bottle and trademark that Steve has been posting about frequently over the past several weeks. Normally I would post an image of it here, but Banksy has some choice, four-letter words for the advertising industry and IP rights. So why don’t you go ahead and check it out here.

As an intellectual property attorney who has lived and breathed advertising her whole life, as a consumer of it and countless afternoons watching the behind-the-scenes action as a daughter of an ad exec at a major ad agency — you kind of hurt my feelings, Banksy.

Banksy certainly feeds into growing anti-corporate, 99%-er sentiment about the effects on society of corporations and government monopolies like intellectual property rights. Banksy asserts that once a created work is put in the public domain, then it’s the public’s to use and manipulate and there should be no intellectual property protections. If this thought interests you, I encourage you to read articles related to the contrasting views amongst libertarians about intellectual property rights, such as the one linked here.

Let’s be honest, although Banksy spouts off on branding and intellectual property rights, he (and consumers of his art) certainly benefit from those rights and  protections. Banksy himself is a brand – that’s part of what I think is his genius. His Oscar-nominated Exit Through The Gift Shop documentary is copyrighted and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Countless fake Banksy works are sold on eBay for much more than a penny. Proof of his love-hate relationship with IP rights is right on his website:

(It may be hard to see, but it says “You’re welcome to download whatever you wish from this site for personal use. However, making your own art or merchandise and passing it off as ‘official’ or authentic Banksy artwork is very bad and wrong.”)

I have to say that, in some respects, he has a point. Unless you are living off the grid, we are constantly bombarded every day with images of how we should look, dress, eat, drink, live. We often fail to acknowledge how pervasive marketing is in our lives. However, as we know, branding and marketing help us make choices about a good or service and to distinguish sources of goods. Marketing provides the consumer with an expectation of quality, particular characteristics, or an experience associated with a particular good or service. Setting aside his rhetoric, maybe the message of Banksy’s advertising diatribe is to be better stewards of that important responsibility.

It’s OK, Banksy. You can make up for my hurt feelings by sending me two Lady Di tenners and a signed print of your message-in-a-bottle advertising manifesto. I’ll frame it and put it up in my office as a reminder.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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