The Lille High Court rendered a judgment on September 24th, 2015, ordering champagne house, Vranken Pommery, to pay € 133,500 by way of damages to an artist named Anita Molinero due to the fact that the former had the latter’s sculpture incinerated without her knowledge or consent. The judgment is of particular interest for its copyright aspects.
Vranken Pommery is a champagne house which commissioned Anita Molinero’s to create a sculpture to be used in its exhibition ‘Experience Pommery#10’. The resultant sculpture (Salto Yano) was on exhibition for few months. After being warned by the fire department about the inflammable material used in the work, it was dismantled with Anita Molinero’s permission and stored in Pommery’s custody.
In March 2014, Salto Yano was, unbeknownst to Anita Molinero, destroyed by a cleaning company acting on instructions from Vranken Pommery,.
The artist brought legal proceedings against the champagne house on contractual and copyright grounds.
The former were based on the custodial agreement between the parties as, under the commission agreement, the sculpture was to remain the artist’s property (albeit with an option to purchase in favour of Vranken Pommery) but was to be held in the champagne house’s custody.
On the contractual claim, the Court found in the artist’s favour as the champagne house had failed to live up to the fundamental duty of a custodian, viz. return of the object held in custody in its original state. Damages were set at €116,500 as this was the price set in the parties’ agreement in the event that Vranken Pommery elected to exercise its option to purchase the work.
Also on the contractual claim, the champagne company was found to have caused non-pecuniary harm to the artist due to the fact that the destruction was deliberate and total and, moreover, was carried out by a cleaning company; this was held to be humiliating for the artist. Vranken Pommery was ordered to pay € 5,000 to the artist for inflicting moral harm.
As regards the artist’s copyright claims, these related to her moral right and to her economic right.
As regards the moral right claim, the Court awarded € 7,000 to the artist for violation of her moral right as a result of the total destruction of the sculpture. While not expressly stated by the Court, this no doubt relates specifically to the right of integrity.
As regards the economic copyright claim, the Court held that the total destruction of the sculpture deprived Anita Molinero of the opportunity to publicly display her work in future exhibitions (the right of public display being a specific application of the broader right of communication to the public). Consequently, the court ordered the champagne company to pay € 5,000 as damages to the artist in this respect.
Vranken Pommery has announced that it intends to appeal this ruling on the grounds inter alia of the excessive quantum of damages awarded in light, in particular, of the price Ms. Molinero’s works have fetched to date.