‘Bubblegum Marilyn’ Artist Wins Copyright Case

German artist Michael Moebius is best known for his images of celebrities chewing gum. His 2015 portrait of Marilyn – based on a 1962 photo by Bert Stern – has gone viral, and can now be found on posters, T-shirts and cell-phone cases (sometimes with the caption, ‘being normal is boring’ – not a verifiable quote, by the way!) Moebius has also created other portraits of Marilyn based on her photo shoots with Alfred Eisenstaedt and Douglas Kirkland

Moebius has also created other portraits of Marilyn based on her photo shoots with Alfred Eisenstaedt and Douglas Kirkland – but the work shown below looks more like a fusion of Marilyn’s face with the body of British bombshell Diana Dors.

Now, as Artnet reports, the English photographer Gavin Evans has lost a long legal battle over the artist’s usage of a 1995 portrait of David Bowie in another work, superimposed with the Moebius bubblegum motif.

“Evans filed a legal claim against Maddox Gallery in London after Moebius’s series was displayed there in 2018. It was ultimately settled for an undisclosed sum. Thereafter, Evans filed suit against Moebius in the U.K. Fighting back, Moebius initiated proceedings against Evans in Germany; Evans filed a counterclaim, moving his case to Berlin. The case was resolved in Moebius’s favor, and Evans’s claim of infringement was dismissed as unfounded.

The court found that Moebius’s work differed from Evans’s in both form and message. ‘It radiates softness and tranquility, which is primarily caused by the altered eye area,’ the court said of Moebius’s image. ‘The drawing shows a world-famous artist performing an everyday, yet absurd gesture with great seriousness.’ By contrast, Evans’s photograph is defined by the strong contrast in its lighting and the vertical line formed by finger and nose. In it, Bowie ‘commands the viewer to remain calm,’ the court said.”

It’s not the first case of this kind: in March this year, photographer Lynn Goldsmith won on appeal a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Foundation, regarding the artist’s appropriation of her 1981 photo of Prince (see here.)

Bert Stern, who died in 2013, might have sympathised with his fellow photographers. He once described Steven Meisel’s 1991 photos of Madonna for Vanity Fair, replicating his sessions with Marilyn, as ‘body-snatching Monroe.’ In 2008, the same magazine chose the image that would inspire Moebius for a cover story on Marilyn. It was re-used in 2016 for a special issue celebrating her 90th birthday, although fans noted that the image had seemingly undergone some digital airbrushing.