Oct 18, 2022 - News

Austin collage artist makes copyright claim

Two pieces of art, included as an exhibit in a copyright lawsuit.

Side-by-side images of work by Lynthia Edwards (left) and Deborah Roberts (right) were included in the complaint filed by Roberts in federal court.

An Austin collagist is suing another artist and a gallerist for copyright infringement.

The big picture: Deborah Roberts' claims raise fundamental questions about the creation and ownership of imagery.

Details: Roberts, who was born in Austin in the early 1960s and still lives and works here, has sued Alabama artist Lynthia Edwards and New York City gallerist Richard Beavers, claiming "willful copyright infringement."

  • Roberts' work, which combines fragments of photographs and fabric swatches with hand drawn and painted details and often features Black children as subjects, is in the collections of prominent museums, such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The intrigue: Roberts claims that Beavers contacted her in 2020, requesting to show and sell her work.

  • After she declined to work with the gallery, the suit claims that Beavers and Edwards "substantially copied and offered for sale … works of visual art that replicate the composition, content, style, framing, color, narrative, and artistic intent" of Roberts' own work.
  • Roberts claims the similarities between their styles and marketing has led to confusion among art buyers.
  • She is seeking at least $1 million in damages, per the suit initially filed in a New York federal court over the summer.

The other side: Roberts "is using her resources and influence to cram down a new up-and-coming artist because she perceives her to be a threat to her marketplace," Luke Nikas, who is representing Edwards and the Richard Beavers Gallery, told Artnews.

  • In a letter to the judge last month asking the case be dismissed, Nikas wrote that "the use of photo-based collage has deep roots in the work of Black artists, and Roberts did not invent this artistic tradition and does not own it."
  • On her own website, Edwards says her art "illuminates the world of the southern Black girl experience."

What they're saying: "This is not a frivolous claim," Roberts told Austin arts publication Sightlines. "I want everyone to be successful in the art world, especially young and emerging artists of color."

  • Neither she, Edwards or Beavers responded to Axios interview requests.

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