The Paris Court of Appeal condemned Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise (LFI) for violating the property and moral rights of street artist Combo. “This is a historic victory, because it constitutes the first case law rendered in France protecting a work of street art by copyright”comments Nicolas Le Pays du Teilleul, Combo’s lawyer.
Object of litigation, the work entitled La Marianne Asian, is a mural painted by Combo in 2017. It was used without authorization in the campaign clips of Jean-Luc Mélenchon during the presidential election of 2017 and by La France Insoumise during the 2020 municipal elections. In June 2020, Combo accused Jean-Luc Mélenchon of using his fresco without permission and attributing it to STYX. If in the first instance justice had recognized the originality and paternity of Combo, the court had nevertheless rejected its request for protection under copyright.
Combo appealed, claiming more than 900,000 euros from the politician and his party for counterfeiting, infringement of his copyright and non-pecuniary damage. The street artist “mainly complained of political exploitation of his work and damage to his reputation”says the press release from his lawyer.
Contesting the infringement of copyright, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and LFI invoked the exception of panorama, which exempts from copyright the use of architectural, graphic or plastic works, permanently placed on the public highway. and carried out by natural persons and without commercial purpose. According to them, the work in question was “placed on the public highway and affixed to an architectural work in a permanent manner”.
The Court of Appeal considered the opposite, affirming that a work of street art, in particular consisting partly of glued paper like the one in question, cannot be considered as “permanently placed on the public highway”due to its vulnerability to external hazards such as voluntary damage, erasure by the owner of the medium or alterations due to bad weather.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon and LFI are also accused of having deliberately integrated the work into the campaign clips, “in an aesthetic research that reveals the intention of the director to make it an important element of the clip and to exploit the work by associating it with the political message broadcast”. Moreover, the unauthorized addition of the LFI sign and its partial integration into a visual medium, as well as the addition of elements such as branches and birds in the watermark, constitute an attack on the integrity of the work.
The Court of Appeal recognizes that the use of the fresco in the disputed videos is “devoid of any excess or controversy and is in line with the republican and civic values claimed by LFI”. However, it considers that this use bears “attack on the spiritual integrity of the work” insofar as it was used in support of the political action of the party and its leader, without the permission of the artist. This use could be “likely to make believe” that the author supports or is associated with LFI and Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
The Court of Appeal therefore reversed the decision of the Paris Court of Justice which had rejected the street artist’s requests in 2021, and ordered Jean-Luc Mélenchon and LFI to pay 40,000 euros to the artist. According to the judgment dated July 5, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and LFI will have to jointly pay 15,000 euros in respect of the “moral damage” suffered by the artist, and 5,000 euros each for “compensation for his patrimonial damage”. To these sums are added 15,000 euros in legal costs.