Artist gets settlement from BMW SA over advert

Artist Gerhard Marx has won his battle against BMW South Africa over the company’s use, in an advertising campaign, of road-map fragments pioneered in his work.

Last week BMW and its advertising agency, Ireland Davenport, offered Marx an out-of-court settlement and apology for copyright infringement.

In 2005 Marx held a solo exhibition at the Warren Siebrits gallery in Johannesburg, in which he showcased a technique he had developed of creating line illustrations from roads on map fragments.

Ireland Davenport used the idea in a 2006 newspaper campaign advertising the BMW Z4.
According to sources close to the artist he claimed R1,5-million in damages.

On September 25 some of South Africa’s top artists, including William Kentridge and Penny Siopis, donated their works to an auction to raise funds for Marx’s legal fees. The auction, held at Newtown’s Bag Factory art studios, raised about R450 000.

Legal fees were estimated to be R300 000, the balance will be used to set up a David and Goliath Fund, which will help artists in future plagiarism claims.

In a statement this week attorney Owen Dean said Marx, Ireland Davenport and BMW SA had “amicably” settled the case.

The agency said it had no intention of associating its campaign with Marx’s work, adding that it “fully supports the arts and regrets if any impression to the contrary was given”.

The apology contradicts a report in The Star earlier this week in which BMW spokesperson Benedict Maaga said the company “contests the assertion that it has infringed the rights of the artist Gerhard Marx or plagiarised his work”.

Pretoria-based Owen, who represented the family of deceased composer Solomon Linda in a royalties claim against Disney Enterprises over The Lion Sleeps Tonight, said that copyright infringement is on the increase in South Africa.

“There is a cavalier attitude, one of the problems is that it is now so easy to reproduce works—like downloading them from the internet.” Dean said.

The David and Goliath fund, he said, could play an important role because the Copyright Act is expensive to enforce.

“It is a pity that the Act is not really achieving its purpose,” he said.

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse is the arts editor of the Mail & Guardian, a position he has held since 1999. He has edited two anthologies: Positions (Steidl, Jacana Media 2010) about artists engaging with politics in South Africa today, and The Invisible Ghetto (GMP, 1994) a compilation of creative writing about gender. His essays have appeared in collected works about arts and culture here and abroad. He has worked in the theatre for over a decade as an actor, writer and senior publicist at the Market Theatre. Read more from Matthew Krouse

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