The estate of a famous photographer is suing Google and an artist named Mr. Brainwash for using images of John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and other musicians. The images appeared as merchandise and at a launch party Google hosted last fall in Los Angeles to hype its new music service.
The case is the latest in series of copyright lawsuits in which photographers have accused artists like Shepard Fairey and Mr. Brainwash of appropriating their photos without permission. The most famous of these involved Fairey’s Obama “Hope” poster which was based on an AP photograph.
As can be seen in pictures in the court filing below, Mr. Brainwash drew on photos of the late James Marshall to create images like this one of Coltrane:
The suit says Mr. Brainwash, whose real name is Thierry Guetta, sold the images as merchandise. It also says Google wrongfully used the images as backdrops at its Google Music launch party which took place at Guetta’s studio in Los Angeles. (Here is Mashable’s account of the hype and here are an LA radio station’s pictures of the event).
Guetta lost a similar lawsuit last summer over his recreation of a famous Run DMC photo.
The artistic provenance of Guetta himself is in question, and has given rise to a hipper-than-thou debate about whether he is the alter-ego of famed street artist Banksy. Both characters were the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop.
As for Google, its music service which was launched as a rival to iTunes, has reportedly struggled to get traction. The company has since folded Google Music into its multi-media site Google Play.
The lawsuit seeks damages and an injunction forbidding the use of the images. Previous such lawsuits have turned on whether the new images are transformative enough to count as fair use in copyright law.
You can see more of the pictures in question here in the lawsuit: