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Gallic Court Galled by Galliano

John GallianoJohn Galliano, chief designer for Dior as well as for his own label, is an inspired sculptor of textiles -- but his creativity in the photographic realm has been called into question.

A French court ruled that a Galliano ad campaign copied the work of well-known US photographer William Klein, and the judge ordered the designer to pay 200,000 euros (approx. USD $275,000) in compensation. 

Galliano's lawyer contends that the ads, shot by Julien d'Ys and featuring model Agyness Deyn, did not resemble images from Klein's original work and thus should not be considered copies.  The appearance of the ads, however, apparently mimicked Klein's "painted contacts" technique, in which black-and-white photo contact sheets are blown up and marked with enamel paint in primary colors to highlight the images.  Klein developed the style over 15 years ago, and his work was the subject of a 2005 retrospective at the Pompidou Center in Paris, where both parties live and work. 

Both sides are likely to appeal.  

Would a similar ruling result under US law?  Not exactly, since 25% of the award was reportedly for damages to the reputation of Klein's work, a moral rights claim that would have little resonance in American jurisprudence.  Copying the recognized style of another artist, however, recalls the case of Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures, 663 F. Supp. 796 (S.D.N.Y 1987), in which a federal district court found that a movie poster imitating the style (and some of the substance) of a well-known New Yorker magazine cover was an infringement of copyright.  Although the Galliano ads are not alleged to have reproduced specific scenes from Klein's work, the photographer's style alone is highly recognizable.  Even if an unsympathetic court might dismiss the technique as an unprotectable "idea" under copyright, a colorable trade dress or unfair competition claim might stand.  After all, Klein learned of the ads when a friend saw them and asked why he'd (apparently) done such poor work for Galliano. 

The moral of the story:  Unless you're looking for a fight, don't advertise original work with knockoff images.  At least not in French Vogue. 

A William Klein original

Thanks to Nancy Prager, Esq., for the tip -- and don't forget to check out her blog!

UPDATE:  Le Monde's detailed report of the case, courtesy of Alain Coblence.  Merci!