Banksy remains anonymous | Artist wins trademark case with EU board of appeals

Banksy has prevailed in a months-long legal challenge over the trademark of his image of an ape, with a European Union board of appeals overruling a decision by the EU’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

banksy anonymous ape

In May 2021, the EUIPO had ruled that the anonymous British street artist’s EU trademark for the monkey was “invalid in its entirety”. 

Now, The Art Newspaper reports that the decision has been overturned.

The disagreement began in 2019, when postcard company Full Colour Black successfully challenged the trademark for not being distinctive enough. They also accused Banksy’s authenticating body, Pest Control, for allegedly filing it “in bad faith”.

banksy anonymous

However, in the EU board of appeal’s ruling published last week, they say: “All the arguments, facts and reasonings provided by the cancellation applicant taken as a whole cannot justify or explain clearly a dishonest behaviour from the EUTM proprietor (Pest Control) when he filed the contested mark and, consequently, the presumption of good faith is still valid and the cancellation applicant failed to prove the contrary.”

Likely the biggest implication of the ruling is that it allows Banksy to maintain his anonymity. A prior dispute over the artist’s ‘Flower Thrower’ work ruled that “if Banksy could not be identified as the unquestionable owner of his graffiti, as his identity is a secret, it further cannot be established without question that the artist holds any copyrights to a graffiti.”

According to Aaron Wood, a trademark lawyer at Brandsmiths who spoke to The Art Newspaper, Full Colour Black’s case relied on their claim that Pest Control filed the trademark without intent to use it.

“This is a significant victory for Banksy, or more accurately Pest Control Office Limited, which enables Banksy to conceal his identity,” Lee Curtis, a trademark specialist at the law firm HGF Limited said. “The fact that [Banksy] may have said on two occasions that ‘copyright is for losers’ should not impact on the validity of his trademark registration.”

banksy art britain trade

Banksy’s monkey artwork in question first appeared in 2002. Painted on the wall of a nightclub in Brighton, the monkey stood with a sandwich board around its neck, with a message reading: “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge.” 

It has featured in many Banksy works since then, one of which fetched £2.5m ($2.9m) at Sotheby’s in London during June 2021.

In recent weeks, the artist has been in Ukraine, with seven of his murals appearing across war-torn parts of the nation.

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