Being an anonymous street artist undoubtedly has its perks, but, as Banksy has learned this week, it can also have substantial disadvantages. The graffiti artist’s trademark is potentially at risk after he lost a two-year legal battle with a greetings card company, which ruled that it can use his artworks on its products.
The company, called Full Colour Black, argued that it should be able to use an image of Banksy’s “Flower Thrower” mural – which he painted in Jerusalem – because he can’t be identified as the unquestionable owner due to his identity remaining hidden. The decision overturns Banksy’s 2014 acquisition of an EU trademark of the artwork.
According to The Guardian, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) panel said of its decision: “Banksy has chosen to remain anonymous and, for the most part, to paint graffiti on other people’s property without their permission, rather than to paint it on canvases or his own property.”
The EUIPO cited Banksy’s decision to open up a gift shop last year as part of the reason for their ruling, suggesting it undermined the case. In October 2019, the artist set up a surprise installation in Croydon, which was filled with a selection of Banksy artworks, including the stab-proof vest worn by Stormzy during his historic Glastonbury set. The “showroom” existed for a few weeks, and was accompanied by an online store selling limited edition Banksy products.
Announcing the store, Banksy said in a statement: “A greetings card is contesting the trademark I hold to my art, and attempting to take custody of my name so they can sell their fake Banksy merchandise legally.”
The EUIPO said they found Banksy’s intention with the store “was not to use the mark as a trademark to commercialise goods… but only to circumnavigate the law”, adding that “these actions are inconsistent with honest practices”.
Aaron Mills, the trademark lawyer who represented the card company, told World Trademark Review that the ruling means “all of Banksy’s trademarks are at risk as all of the portfolio has the same issue”.
The decision might mean that Banksy will finally reveal his identity – although we already know who he is. We see you, Neil Buchanan.