Mercedes Suing Artists Over Alleged “Shakedown Effort” Following Instagram Post

Automotive photography is more than just point and click as it involves scouting for locations and searching for interesting backgrounds. Depending on where you are, this process can take anywhere from a matter of minutes to well over an hour.

This issue is at the heart of a legal battle between Mercedes-Benz USA and four artists who painted murals in Detroit. When the automaker introduced the 2019 G-Class at the North American International Auto Show last year, they shot photos and video of the SUV at a number of different locations in the city.

Several of these photos were later uploaded to Instagram where they were used to promote the all-new G-Class. This isn’t too surprising nor is the fact that Mercedes’ photographers did what anyone else in the industry would do – use interesting backgrounds, murals in this case.

According to lawsuits filed in the United States District Court of Eastern Michigan, and noticed by The Detroit News, four artists threatened to sue Mercedes for copyright infringement since their murals were featured in the photographs. Mercedes removed the Instagram post, but now it’s suing the artists for what it’s calling an “aggressive shakedown effort.”

While it’s important to protect the rights of artists, Mercedes says the pictures were designed to promote the G-Class and the murals behind the SUV were simply just in the background. It’s also worth mentioning that these murals are outside, where anyone can take a picture of them.

Mercedes maintains it “respects artists and the arts” as it “regularly partners with cultural institutions and supports art festivals.” However, the company says they “did not infringe on defendant’s alleged copyright” and only “made fair use of defendant’s mural.” The company went on to say the murals are exempt from protection under the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act.

Mercedes is effectively asking the court to confirm these arguments and have the artists pay for their legal costs.

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  • ErnieB

    Street artist are a bunch of pansies .. get off your high horse.. it’s a picture of a car and it so happens to include a wall with the art.. you don’t see architects getting bent out of shape when their beautiful modern buildings are included in advertising..this is stupid ..

    • Six_Tymes

      very good point!

    • lagunas3ca

      Exactly. Any real artist would be flattered to have their work displayed in a Mercedes-Benz media post, with or without being accredited.

  • TheBelltower

    Typically I would agree that art exhibited outside would be subject to public domain laws. But seeing as these photographs were professionally taken for commercial purposes to sell products, and these locations were chosen because of their visually distinctive art, I do think that the artists have a good case. If these were user generated images uploaded by Mercedes owners, it would be a different story.

    • salamOOn

      “these photographs were professionally taken for commercial purposes to sell products”

      hey honey, look at these murals, i think im gonna buy that G class!

      • TheBelltower

        Evidently Mercedes thought they were good enough.

  • THE ARTIST SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR THE FREE PUBLICITY.
    THAT BEING SAID THE LINE IN THE ARTICLE STATING THAT SCOUTING OUT LOCATIONS CAN TAKE “A MATTER OF MINUTES TO WELL OVER AN HOUR” SEEMS A BIT OBTUSE.

  • Galaxium

    Good, I wanna see some of these artists become even more broke LOL

  • lagunas3ca

    It’s not that hard.

  • sidewaysspin

    So street art isn’t free after all.

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