Damien Hirst Sued for Allegedly Copying Jewelry Design

MajorsJun 16, 2016

Damien Hirst Sued for Allegedly Copying Jewelry Design

Canadian artist and jewelry designer Colleen Wolstenholme has filed suit against the famed British artist, claiming he copied her pill-motif jewelry.

A pill bracelet by Colleen Wolstenhome, photo courtesy of Art Mûr

New York--Two artists and jewelry designers are involved in a legal battle in New York federal court over their respective lines of jewelry inspired by prescription drugs.

Canadian artist Colleen Wolstenholme, who, according to court documents filed by her attorney, “produces works in a wide range of media including jewelry, painting, sculpture, embroidery, and digital collage,” first introduced her pill sculptures and jewelry, the work for which she is most known, in 1996.

Wolstenholme’s tribute to pharmaceutical drugs, such as Prozac and Percocet, is a comment on today’s quick-fix society, and her pairing of pills with jewelry expands this statement into a dialogue on female oppression.

Court documents state that Wolstenholme combined two ideas in executing these designs: one, that jewelry, particularly engagement rings, are a way for men to lay claim to women; and two, that pharmaceutical drugs are disproportionately prescribed to females.

Damien Hirst, purportedly the United Kingdom’s wealthiest living artist, rose to fame in the 1990s as part of the YBA, or Young British Artists, movement. He is most well-known for his works which preserve animals in formaldehyde and his spot designs.

Hirst also uses pharmaceutical pills as a theme in his work. He created large-scale pill cabinet sculptures from 2007 to 2010.

He also sells silver and gold pill jewelry, which is the disputed work addressed in the lawsuit, through his retail company Other Criteria, which sells his work online and in its New York store, where it is headquartered.

Hirst also collaborated with fine jewelry brand Hoorsenbuhs on a pill-themed collection in 2014.

In court documents, Wolstenholme’s attorney asserts that, “Hirst knew of Wolstenholme and the Wolstenholme works as early as March 1998, if not earlier, and had access to the works” and “began creating, distributing, displaying and selling the infringing works as early as 2004.”

Wolstenholme is suing Hirst and Other Criteria for copyright infringement under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, copyright infringement under the Canadian Copyright Act, and unfair competition.

“When viewed side by side, the works and the infringing works are identical and/or substantially similar,” court documents state.

While Wolstenholme has thus far been denied copyright protection from the United States, she is currently re-applying for protection of a specific pill charm bracelet, which grants her legal ground to sue.

Additionally, the United States and Canada are parties to The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which “provides
that work authored by citizens of signatory states must be accorded at least the same copyright protection in other signatory states as such states accord works authored by their own citizens.”

Wolstenholme is seeking a permanent injunction for Hirst and Other Criteria to stop producing any work similar to Wolstenholme’s and an order impounding all existing copies of the work. She is also seeking damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Hirst has been the subject of copyright claims before, and has previously entered into one settlement.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Science UK Limited, Hirst’s company, said, “We refute the claim made by Colleen Wolstenholme. Damien Hirst designed his earliest pill work in 1988, long before Wolstenholme created her first jewellery. We will defend any action brought against Damien.”
Ashley Davisis the senior editor, fashion at National Jeweler, covering all things related to design, style and trends.

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