Google and Mr Brainwash in a Purple Haze over Hendrix and Coltrane images

Google has been accused of copyright infringement for using photographs of Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane in advertising its Google Music service. The action has been brought in the United States District Court for the Central District of California by the estate of James “Jim” Marshall, a photographer renowned for his iconic photographs of popular musicians (not to be confused with the James “Jim” Marshall who founded

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Marshall Amplification – or, indeed, James “Jimi” Marshall Hendrix).

Central to the dispute are the derivative works of the pop artist Thierry Guetta (aka Mr Brainwash), who was the star of Exit through the Gift Shop, a documentary directed by fellow street artist Banksy. The Marshall estate alleges that Mr Brainwash created, displayed and sold derivative works based on a number of Jim Marshall’s photographs depicting, amongst others, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Brian Jones.

Google’s alleged infringement is slightly more indirect. Late last year, in promoting its Google Music service, Google held a media launch event at Mr Brainwash’s studio, staging it in front of a backdrop composed of blow-ups of Mr Brainwash’s derivative images of Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane (shown here). The estate of Jim Marshall claims that at this event Google “invited, directed, requested and authorized others … to photograph the Infringing Backdrop”. Consequently, the estate argues that because “each Defendant had the right and ability to supervise the infringing conduct, and had an obvious and direct financial interest in the infringing conduct”, both Google and Mr Brainwash were liable for “contributory copyright infringement” in respect of the unauthorised photographs taken by the attendees of the Google Music launch.

It would appear that the Marshall estate has been keeping itself busy since Jim Marshall’s death in 2010, having recently commenced copyright infringement proceedings against both menswear designer John Varvatos and Sony Music: the former for displaying a number of Marshall’s photographs in his stores, including one of Hendrix at Monterey Pop in 1967 and one of the Beatles coming on to stage for their last concert at Candlestick Park in 1966; the latter for displaying, selling and distributing posters derived from a photograph taken by Marshall of Johnny Cash at San Quentin State Prison.

But the Marshall estate isn’t the only party in this proceeding who is “experienced”: last year, Mr Brainwash was successfully sued by photographer Glen E Friedman for infringing copyright in an iconic photograph of Run DMC. The Marshall estate, no doubt encouraged by this, has

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now hired the attorney who acted for Glen E Friedman to act in their own action against Mr Brainwash.

With some of Mr Brainwash’s works being sold at auction for over $100,000, collectors might do well to recall some of Hendrix’s more evocative (albeit comically ungrammatical) lyrics:

And so castles made of sand melts into the sea, eventually.

A further look into Hendrix’s discography might, however, offer joker–artist Mr Brainwash and the collectors of his works some solace:

“No reason to get excited,”
The thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke”

But then again, although Hendrix also borrowed, it is clear that he was no thief: Bob Dylan continues to receive royalties for reproductions and performances of the Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower (which contains the above lyrics). And unlike Mr Brainwash’s works, Hendrix’s “appropriation” from Dylan involved a bit more than scanning and photoshopping.

A copy of the brief can be found here.