1. The question of how far IP protection can be stretched in
relation to creative work has kept Courts busy over the last
Earlier this year a First Instance Court in Milan (Italy) was
approached in order to assess whether such protection could be
invoked for what goes under the definition of an 'art
2. In 2007, a designer and an art director created an artistic
installation in the context of a project performed in favor of a
not-for-profit organization. The work consisted in lamps, assembled
as a giant puzzle and resulting in a light wall in red and white
(the idea was to have this giant puzzle entering into the listings
of the Guinness Book of Records).
The intertwined puzzle tiles were also registered as a national
3. Four years later the authors of the installation noticed that
a very similar work (a lamp puzzle) had been used in a TV
commercial promoting a pharmaceutical product.
Feeling that their author's and owner's rights had been
infringed, the designer, the art director and the not-for-profit
organization filed a claim with the IP Section ("Sezione
Specializzata in Materia di Imprese") of a First Instance
Court in Milan against both, the advertiser (a pharmaceutical
company) and the ad agency who had prepared the campaign, seeking
for injunctive relief and damage compensation.
4. The defendants argued that the particular kind of
installation could not benefit from IP right protection, insofar as
it did not present the characteristics of 'novelty' and
'creativity', essential to the purpose. They claimed that
puzzle tiles were constantly used outside of their 'natural
context', i.e. that of a game (e.g. for composing the American
5. The Court disagreed with defendants' arguments, holding
- 'Novelty' had not to be sought in the use of the lamps,
rather in their assembling.
- The concept of 'creativity' was not invalidated by the
fact that the work had made use of ideas and items pertaining to
the general knowledge of an experienced person. In the specific
case, 'creativity' was to be found in the combination of
items of common use (the lamps) for a completely different –
original – purpose, i.e. that of combining them into a puzzle
- 'Notoriety' had also to be taken into account and as to
that plaintiffs had succeeded in substantiating that the light
puzzle had been presented at MiArt (an international furniture
fair), had been exposed in several renown parks and locations in
Milan (e.g. the Sforza Castle, the Museum of Natural History), had
also been exhibited at furniture fairs in Paris and New York, at
design fairs in Poland and Barcelona, Spain, at the international
Poetry Festival in Cuba, and, finally, had received extensive
coverage in the art magazine Exibart.
Hence the Court's conclusion that a work like the one in
dispute could definitely be considered as suitable to benefit from
6. On such premise, the Court found that (judgment no. 1719 of
February 9, 2016):
- The agency had acted with fraudulent intent, having knowledge
– through its CCO and EVP – about plaintiff's art
- The advertiser had failed in performing a proper in-advance check
about the IP rights of the represented work, therefore facing joint
liability with respect to the ascertained infringement.
- Served the defendants with an order imposing to restrain from
further infringing conduct and establishing a daily fine of Euro
500,00 for any delay in compliance or further violation (after a
thirty days' period had elapsed from the date of the
- Awarded Euro 20.000,00 in moral damages in favor of the designer
and the art director and Euro 30.000,00 in actual damages (i.e.
financial loss) to all the plaintiffs jointly (where such latter
amount was determined by making reference to the standard criterion
of 'common price of consent', which authors/right owners
were likely to charge for permitting the use of their work).
- Ordered the defendants to bear the costs for giving a single,
public notice about the judgment on a national newspaper.
- Served the defendant with the legal fees for the proceeding,
determined in Euro 12.000.
7. Advertisers and agencies will need to consider that sometimes
even simple creations or peculiar executions of common ideas
deserve some adequate in-advance thought about ownership and
author's rights, being capable of not resulting totally alien
to IP protection.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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