Judge Weighs In on Legal Fight Over Banana Art

Joe Morford fails to show Maurizio Cattelan's 'Comedian' copied his earlier creation
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2023 9:35 AM CDT
A Legal Win for Artist Who Taped a Banana to the Wall
An image of a banana duct-taped to a white surface, reminiscent of Maurizio Cattelan's "Comedian," and Joe Morford's "Banana and Orange."   (Getty Images/Roberto)

The Italian artist who stuck a banana to a wall with duct tape wasn't copying the work of a contemporary who taped a banana and an orange to two panels and called it art years earlier. A US district judge for the Southern District of Florida ruled against California-based artist Joe Morford on Friday, concluding a yearslong copyright infringement claim, per the Washington Post. Morford argued Maurizio Cattelan's "Comedian," which became a viral sensation with its 2019 debut at Art Basel in Miami Beach, had copied his own "Banana and Orange," created in 2000 and registered with the US Copyright Office in 2020.

Morford shared analytics indicating his creation of two fruits duct-taped to green panels bordered with masking tape, featured in a 2008 YouTube video and a 2015 Facebook post, had been viewed online by people in 25 countries. But Morford failed to show that Cattelan was one of those people. In his ruling, US District Judge Robert Scola Jr. wrote that "mere availability, and therefore possibility of access, is not sufficient to prove access," per the Post. He also noted the "many differences" in the two works, per Art Newspaper. Morford's piece used plastic fruit, while Cattelan's included a real banana, per ARTNews. The bananas were also placed at different angles.

According to Scola Jr., "Comedian" shared only one of four elements of Morford's "Banana and Orange": the banana's center placement. That was "insignificant and insufficient to support a finding of legal copying," wrote the judge. Cattelan maintains he'd never heard of "Banana and Orange" or Morford—who sought some $390,000 in profits from "Comedian"—until Morford's lawsuit was filed. In an earlier interview, Cattelan said he created an early version of "Comedian" for New York Magazine in 2018 "to symbolize my love of New York," using a banana, found on many New York street corners, and duct tape, which he used to bind the pipes in his apartment. (Cattelan is also behind a $1.25 million solid gold toilet stolen in 2019.)

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