Jeff Koons Is Found Guilty of Plagiarism in Paris and Ordered to Pay $168,000 to the Creator of an Ad He Appropriated

A French judge has found Jeff Koons guilty in his four-year-long legal battle with the creator of a surreal 1980s ad campaign who claims the American artist stole his work.

French ad executive Franck Davidovici created the campaign, titled Fait d’Hiver, in 1985 for the French clothing brand Naf Naf. After seeing Koons’s work exhibited at the Pompidou Center in 2014, he sued the American artist for copyright infringement, accusing him of plagiarizing his advertisement to create a 1988 sculpture that was also called Fait d’Hiver.

Davidovici asked for €300,000 ($352,000) in damages and for Koons’s sculpture to be seized by the state. On Thursday, a Paris court ordered the artist, his business, and the French museum to pay Davidovici a total of €135,000 ($153,000). Jeff Koons LLC was also fined €11,000 for reproducing the work on Koons’s website, while a publishing house that sold a book in which the work was reproduced was fined €2,000. The court did not, however, order the sculpture’s seizure.

artnet News reached out to Davidovici’s lawyer, Jeff Koons’s studio, and the Centre Pompidou for comment but did not hear back by press time.

Franck Davidovici’s “Fait d’Hiver” ad campaign for Naf Naf (1985).

Davidovici’s campaign for the women’s ready-to-wear label featured a pig (Naf Naf’s mascot) with a cask of brandy around its neck coming to the aid of a model buried in an avalanche.

Koons’s porcelain work, realized three years later, depicts a similar scene, although Koons’s version pictures the Italian porn star Ilona Staller (his ex-wife) wearing a breast-baring fishnet top in place of a jacket. The pig’s brandy cask has been replaced by a flower garland, and there’s a penguin thrown in for good measure. According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, Davidovici’s lawyer, Jean Aittouares, says Koons’s work is a “servile copy.”

“It’s the same work in three dimensions, to which Jeff Koons added flowers, and two penguins [sic] to evoke the cold, which aims to stick to the original work.” Aittouares told the newspaper. “He completes the plagiarism by giving his work the same title as the advert, Fait d’Hiver.

The title, which translates to “fact of winter,” is a homonym of the French “fait divers,” meaning a short news item.

Fait d’Hiver by US artist Jeff Koons at Christie’s auction house is seen before going on sale for an estimated $4-6 million in New York on November 12, 2007. Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.

The suit had been ongoing since December 2014, when Davidovici first became aware of Koons’s sculpture ahead of a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It was shown as part of his “Banality” series, for which the artist created sculptures from kitsch items, scenes from advertisements, and other copyrighted material.

At the time, the Pompidou’s then-president Alain Seban defended Koons’s work. “The whole point is to work from commercially purchased objects or images that come from advertising or magazines,” Seban said. Despite Seban’s support, however, the sculpture’s lender pulled the work from the show amid the controversy.

One edition of Fait d’Hiver sold for $4.3 million at Christie’s New York in 2007. It is now in the collection of the Prada Foundation. (There are three editions of the work in total, plus an artist’s proof.)

This is not the first complaint lodged at Koons over a sculpture from this series. In fact, a total of five lawsuits have sprung from “Banality”: Koons lost three, while another settled out of court. (Notably, French copyright law is generally not as sympathetic to appropriators and has a stricter definition of “fair use” than US law does.)

The most recent of Koons’s three losses occurred in March 2017, when Paris’s High Court ruled in favor of the estate of the French photographer Jean-François Bauret, who took a photograph of two children that formed the basis of Koons’s sculpture Naked. The court stated that Jeff Koons LLC and the Centre Pompidou, where the work was shown, would need to pay damages. 

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