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South African BMW ad plagiarizes artist's work

In South Africa last February, a newspaper ad for BMW by Ireland-Davenport (which won the account only months before) has been called plagiarism by artist Gerhard Marx and his representatives, Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art (you can see the artists work here). They want the campaign cancelled, an apology and are looking for financial compensation or else they will go ahead with a lawsuit.

They claim that the ad, which features a collage using a map and a line drawing depicting the back of a naked woman for the BMW Z4, uses a technique that is the innovation of Marx (“drawing” human forms using reconstituted map fragments.)

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the BMW ad online and I have not been able to find a website for Ireland-Davenport. There is a review of the ad here as well as some comments that claim that Mr. Ireland was seen at the grand opening of Marx's exhibit, and some other chatter about it here.

But it seems that using maps isn't something totally unique to Marx. In a different vein, here are two Volkswagen print ads by DDB Berlin.

If any South African adgrunts have a copy of the ad, we'd like to see it.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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marcusengstrand's picture

Well a graphic designer and illustrator friend of mine did play around with maps a long time ago.


Creative use of something in our everyday lives, sure. But that unique? Think not. No artist could claim to own that. Now steeling the idea, they might have. But own it, no one can. IMHO.

/Marcus - Director

Imanaddy's picture

Does anyone have an update on this suit?

Dabitch's picture

I seem to find lots of places debating this went it went on, but no end result. My google-fu might be off today however.
Arts south africa wrote about it back then:

The Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Gallery, which represents Marx, instigated in March legal action against both companies. It said in a statement: "Not only is the advertisement a direct rip-off of Marx's signature style but the advert is also composed using reconstituted map fragments which is the cornerstone of Marx's expression."

Siebrits himself is confident the battle is worth fighting and has received numerous statements of support. He says Marx had a November exhibition at the gallery and the accompanying catalogue explained the thinking behind his ideas. Siebrits said the issue came down to ethics and intent: "This is about people who get paid for creative thinking taking an idea lock, stock and barrel. We are challenging the notion of whether there is anything wrong with this and also what the implications are for Gerhard."

Marx has meanwhile been stymied in his creative output. The perceived jump from the fine art to the commercial world of advertising can be risky for an artist with a reputation not yet well established, said Siebrits. "As an artist, it's your sole form of livelihood. The ad agency hijacked his expression, which is very personalised. He really can't continue working in this way because the whole language is now tainted. It's been taken from a secular private expression to [being used to] sell cars ... The advertising agency gets a large commission [from the client, BMW] – they are in creative work for a living but so brazenly feel they can happily borrow ideas and conceptual orientation and palm it off as their own."


So does Marx have a case? Dr Owen Dean, a specialist in copyright law, writes in the Handbook of South African Copyright Law (Juta, 1987) that it is often difficult to decide whether the idea or its expression has been copied. "Due attention must be given to whether the similarity between two items is attributable to common ideas or concepts embodied in them or to similarity of material expression of ideas."

Steve Ferguson, an intellectual property lawyer at Cape Town firm nicciferguson.inc, said an idea that remained in your head cannot be protected, but as soon as it was reduced to a tangible medium, and the remaining requirements for copyright protection in terms of the Copyright Act were met, it might qualify.


Ferguson said artists whose copyright was infringed should write a "cease and desist" letter to give the infringer a period of time to stop. If there was no favourable response, they could apply for an interdict against the infringer and/or claim financial compensation in the form of damages. But Ferguson conceded litigation was expensive and not always affordable or viable for creatives. "For that reason alone, a lot of these cases don't reach the courtroom."

Also, here's the ad (left) vs the art (right). Not done in the same style as the one Marcus Engstrand showed where the map-lines are the lines which create the figure.

tod.brody's picture

"Lock, stock and barrel?" I don't see it. I can't believe that this case wasn't tossed on the merits.

Marx also isn't the first artist to use reconstituted map fragments to create images. There are many websites about the use of maps in art, both before and after Marx. The Map Room's Art Archives links to some of them.

Dabitch's picture

It might never have been actually filed. I see words like "instigated legal action against both companies" and "will go ahead with a suit" but I can't find a have filed suit or the results of one. But like I said, my google-fu isn't very good today.

tod.brody's picture

Maybe some adgrunt with a SA Lexis-Nexis account can look it up for us. :-)

tod.brody's picture

I sent an e-mail to Warren Siebrits which said the following:I'm interested in knowing what the outcome was with the charges of plagiarism against Ireland-Davenport for using Gerhard Marx concept, style and technique for the BMW Z4 print ad. Can you tell me if a lawsuit was ever actually filed, and whether there was ever any settlement or admission by the agency that the genesis of the concept came from Mr. Marx work?Unfortunately, I received the following automated response:The gallery is currently closed for our annual December holiday but will reply to your email when we return, after 8 January 2008.

tod.brody's picture

This afternoon I received a response from to my inquiry from Carmen Jerrard at Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art. She wrote the following:Dear Tod,Thank you for your query. A lawsuit has indeed been filed and a court date has been set in October this year.We will keep you informed of its outcome.Best regards,Carmen Jerrard

Dabitch's picture

Thanks. Wow, court date is a long way away.

tod.brody's picture

I guess the SA courts are as slow as US courts.

Laurice's picture

"We headed to the Bag Factory also known as the Fordsburg Artists’ Studios last night for an auction of South African art to raise money to support the case of local artist Gerhard Marx vs BMW." ...


Dabitch's picture

Thanks for keeping us updated. I'm keen to know how it ends.

Dabitch's picture

Thank you natattack!

Artist Gerhard Marx has won his battle against BMW South Africa over the company's use, in an advertising campaign, of road-map fragments pioneered in his work.
Last week BMW and its advertising agency, Ireland Davenport, offered Marx an out-of-court settlement and apology for copyright infringement.