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Artist Behind Banana Taped to Wall Can’t Escape Copyright Suit

July 7, 2022, 3:32 PM

The artist behind a viral sculpture featuring a banana taped to a wall at the 2019 Art Basel fair in Miami was unable to immediately shake a lawsuit claiming he copied the artwork from another artist.

The idea of a banana duct-taped to a wall is uncopyrightable, but the specific “selection, coordination, and arrangement” of the various elements of the sculpture can receive a degree of protection, Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. said in his Wednesday opinion.

At this early stage of the suit, artist Joe Morford sufficiently argued that the Art Basel exhibit, known as “Comedian,” was substantially similar to his work, called “Banana & Orange,” which he registered with the Copyright Office in 2000.

“Comedian,” created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, garnered significant international press, commentary, and controversy. Cattelan sold three copies of the work and two proofs for more than $390,000. Morford, who represents himself, sued for copyright infringement in 2021.

The judge, writing for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, found that Morford has also sufficiently alleged that Cattelan had access to “Banana & Orange,” a piece featuring both a banana and an orange taped to a wall with silver duct tape.

The work has been available on YouTube since 2008, on Facebook since 2015, and on Morford’s personal website since 2016. The artist showed that the work had been accessed in 25 different countries, Scola said.

“Banana & Orange” also met the minimum standard of originality to receive copyright protection, the judge said.

“While using silver duct tape to affix a banana to a wall may not espouse the highest degree of creativity,” he said, “its absurd and farcical nature meets the ‘minimal degree of creativity’ needed to qualify as original.”

Of the copyrigthable elements of Morford’s work, there was similarity to “Comedian,” according to Scola. Both pieces use a single piece of silver duct tape that “runs upward from left to right at an angle” that affixes a banana “angled downward left to right” against a wall, he said.

An attorney for Cattelan didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cattelan is represented by Kane Kessler PC and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP. Morford represents himself.

The case is Morford v. Cattelan, S.D. Fla., No. 1:21-cv-20039, 7/6/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Isaiah Poritz in Washington at iporitz@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Carmen Castro-Pagán at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com