Banksy fans are a lot like fans of Donald Trump. In both instances, the fans lavish worship upon their heroes, thoroughly convinced that everything they do is brilliant. Both fans suggest their leaders are geniuses and we are too stupid to understand how well and truly far ahead in the game they are. And if what they do doesn't quite make sense or seems contradictory or even hypocritical, then it must be because they are both playing some sort of 4D chess. How else would one explain the elusive artist's decision earlier in the year to sue an Italian museum for infringement despite their normal anti-capitalist, even anarchic stance?
According to artnet, "In a surprising about-face, the anonymous street artist who usually flouts the authority of the law, successfully took legal action against an Italian museum for profiting off of his name and work. A judge ruled in Banksy's favor and the museum was required to stop selling merch in its gift shop.
What has a lot of people calling him a sell out is the above. The same person who derided copyright and largely ignored bootleggers. has now turned into someone wanting to protect his "brand," from others who are profiting off it without his consent, even issuing a "product recall" warning to others on his website.
In a time where large corporations like Spotify and Google continuously hold contempt for the artistic class and destroy their livelihood by cheapening the value of art, standing up for the rights of others, even if he isn't doing it for personal gain, is a noble act. Hasn't that been part of his work this entire time? That and making stupid visual puns? I know the Brits love their puns, but could you just imagine how bad a copywriter he would have been?
Regardless of intention, he should be protecting his work and his brand, even if he doesn't want to profit of it. Why should a museum or any of the hundreds of sellers on Etsy make money off his work?
Interestingly, there are larger legal waters for Banksy to navigate. If this year's lawsuit is starting a precedent, the company who handles his authentication service, Pest Control, will have their work cut out for them.
According to The Conversation, "... If Banksy wants to keep enforcing any of his trademarks in courts around the world, and avoid the risk of them being canceled for lack of use, he will need to show judges stronger evidence of his brands being used in the market. This probably means he needs to start regularly producing and selling his own branded merchandise through a specialized commercial vehicle, which so far has not really happened – and may be considered by Banksy himself as antithetical to the very anti-capitalistic message he wants to convey through his art."
The further conundrum is that in order for Pest Control to show it acquired copyright from the artist, then they would have to reveal Banksy's real name, thus removing the mystique. This would also most likely devalue his art. Because if you found out, hypothetically, that all along the art was created by a failed British copywriter with a love of puns, then let's face it, it wouldn't be worth much. Certainly not enough to make him worth 20 million, as of 2013.
The Conversation article ends by saying that if Banksy "...wants to fight regularly (and successfully) against the unauthorized exploitation of his works, especially his brands, he will need to accept the market-driven logic underpinning their legal protection, and start a proper business plan which includes merchandising of his own art, as most art entrepreneurs do."
I guess you can reach a stalemate even when you are playing 4D chess.