Could This Lawsuit Expose Banksy’s Identity?

The legal battle between the street artist and a greeting card company has been unfolding for several years

Gross Domestic Product
Merchandise inside Banksy's London pop-up, Gross Domestic Product, which the artist created in an attempt to hold onto his trademark during ongoing legal battles with the greeting card company Full Colour Black. Aaron Chown / PA Images via Getty Images

Could the infamous street artist Banksy be Bristol artist Robin Gunningham? Jeff Koons? A collective? Or—a major long shot—former NFL quarterback Tom Brady? Because of a lawsuit that could reveal the graffiti artist’s true identity, sports betting websites are taking bids that Banksy is one of these figures, among many others, reports Hyperallergic’s Rhea Nayyar.

The lawsuit stems from Banksy’s ongoing legal battle with Andrew Gallagher and his company, Full Color Black (FCB), which sells greeting cards inspired by Banksy’s work. The company is suing the artist and Pest Control, the group that authenticates his art, for defamation over a now-deleted Instagram post.

In late 2022, Banksy posted a photo of a Guess storefront in London that used one of his works, Flower Thrower, in its window display. The display was part of the clothing brand’s collaboration with Brandalised, which also sells images of Banksy’s work. “Alerting all shoplifters. Please go to Guess on Regent Street. They’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?” Banksy wrote in the caption, per the Evening Standard’s Tristan Kirk.

Now, FCB—which is also the trading company of Brandalised—is seeking at least £1,357,086 (about $1.6 million) in damages and an injunction preventing further defamation. “[Banksy’s] post, by way of innuendo, meant and was understood to mean that the claimant had stolen Banksy’s artwork by licensing images to Guess without permission or other legal authority,” argues the company in its claim, per the London Times’ Ben Ellery and Ali Mitib.

The filing also states, “The claimant reserves the right to seek an order that he identifies himself for the purposes of these proceedings.”

Still, as FCB lawyer Aaron Wood tells Hyperallergic, the suit names only “The Artist Known as Banksy” and “Pest Control Ltd.” as defendants. Because Banksy’s legal name has been kept off of court documents, “the likelihood that Banksy would be forced to personally appear or otherwise reveal himself is low,” writes Artnet’s Adam Schrader.

This is just the latest legal battle between FCB and Banksy. Several years ago, the company sought to invalidate Banksy’s trademark on “Flower Thrower.” In response, in 2019, the artist opened a pop-up store in London called Gross Domestic Product to demonstrate that he was using his trademark to make and sell merchandise, reported the New York Times’ Scott Reyburn in 2020. However, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) sided against the artist because his hidden identity meant he couldn’t be confirmed as the work’s owner.

The two also battled over the trademark for Banksy’s 2002 work depicting a chimpanzee wearing a sandwich board that reads, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge.” In 2021, the EUIPA had sided with FCB, “citing that the public nature of Banksy’s original work as well as his intentional anonymity delegitimize any trademark claims,” writes Hyperallergic. That decision was overturned on appeal in 2022, awarding the artist the trademark.

Banksy has previously expressed disdain for copyright (writing in his book, Wall and Piece, that “copyright is for losers”) and encouraged non-commercial use of his work. Still, the artist and his company maintain that uses like FCB’s are not allowed.

“He’s quite happy for his work to be used for activism and personal enjoyment,” Mark Stephens, the artist’s lawyer, told Artnet’s Sarah Cascone in 2019. “But big corporate groups interested in making a profit pervert the art and take away from its real meanings.”

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