Artist takes on Frida Kahlo Corporation in copyright spat

She was the legendary Mexican painter who set the worlds of art, fashion and politics ablaze. Now Frida Kahlo’s name is stoking a different kind of fire, this time in the world of intellectual property law.

Colorado artist, Nina Shope, who sold dolls based on Kahlo’s image on e-commerce site Etsy, has been accused of copyright infringement by the Frida Kahlo Corporation (FKC). The FKC is a company incorporated by Kahlo’s estate in 2008 and based in Panama. It manages and licenses trademarks for Kahlo’s name and image.

Rights to Kahlo’s image expired in 2004, a century after the artist’s death. However, the “Frida Kahlo” trademark was assigned to the FKC by the artist’s niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo. The Kahlo family also successfully took out an injunction against Mattel the toy manufacturer in 2018 after it sold dolls resembling the Mexican Surrealist.

Shope has not taken the copyright infringement claim lightly. On Wednesday (5 June 2019), she lodged a complaint against the FKC with a US District Court in Colorado. She accuses the FKC of “interference with prospective business advantage” and “deceptive and unfair trade practices”. Shope is also demanding that the FKC ask Etsy to rescind the notice of copyright infringement.

Shope’s attorney, Rachael Lamkin, said she represents other artists who also create dolls representing Kahlo’s image and that “you have to be able to say who that historical figure is without violating a trademark”. Many of these artists cannot afford the legal fees to be able to defend copyright infringement claims. “Imagine what Frida would think of this”, Lamkin said.

Lamkin also pointed out that the FKC manufactures products in homage to the artist including a Frida Kahlo-branded corset and tequila. “Two things that caused her the most pain”, Lamkin added.

The Shope case comes on hot the heels of a lawsuit filed by the FKC in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday (3 June 2019). The FKC is seeking a declaration of intellectual property law infringement by rival company VersaLicensing, which it alleges falsely claimed to represent the trademark rights covering Kahlo’s name and image.

It seems even courts of law have found themselves in the grip of ‘Fridamania’.

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