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On The Case

Art gallery can’t post ‘distorted’ online image of artist’s work - N.Y. judge

(Reuters) - The painter Pat Lipsky and her lawyers at Pryor Cashman won a ruling on Wednesday in Manhattan state court that could make it easier for artists to protect their work from being distorted in online reproductions.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Erika Edwards entered a default judgment for Lipsky, permanently enjoining the Spanierman Gallery from displaying an altered digital image of Lipsky’s 1969 work Bright Music II. Lipsky brought the case under the New York Artists’ Authorship Rights Act, which protects not only original works of art but reproductions of those works.

Lipsky, whose paintings are owned by museums including the Whitney and the Hirshhorn, alleged that in an online image promoting her painting for resale, Spanierman distorted the work’s vibrant colors, apparently in an attempt to conceal damage to an unpainted part of the canvas. Lipsky’s June 2020 complaint asserted that the altered image’s “dull, muted, and lifeless colors” damaged her reputation as a “sensitive colorist” who employs a bold and saturated palette.

The Spanierman Gallery did not appear in the litigation. The gallery removed the distorted image from its website after hearing from Lipsky’s lawyers in early 2020 but the image allegedly resurfaced on the website of another gallery that, according to Lipsky, was working with Spanierman. That gallery subsequently removed the image after Lipsky filed her suit. Wednesday’s declaratory judgment was entered only against Spanierman.

Lipsky counsel William Charron of Pryor Cashman said the decision will be significant as art shows and sales move online and digital images of artists’ work become more prevalent. “This ruling should help artists to protect their legacies and reputations, particularly in this pandemic-induced time of virtual art exhibitions and fairs,” Charron said in an email statement.

Gavin Spanierman, responding to an email query sent to Spanierman Modern, said that Spanierman Gallery LLC closed several years ago and that he has no comment.

The case is Lipsky v. Spanierman Gallery LLC, No. 154805/2020 in New York State Supreme Court.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author. Reuters News, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence and freedom from bias.

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