In 2019, Australian law firm Maurice Blackburn, commissioned a copy of “Fearless Girl” from its artist, Kristen Visbal. The statue was to sit outside their office and was part of the law firm’s campaign for gender equality in the workplace and equal pay. The original statue which debuted in 2017 and stands outside the New York Stock Exchange, was commissioned by State Street Global as part of their marketing campaign to increase the number of women who sit on corporate boards.
State Street Global sued Maurice Blackburn for copyright and trademark infringement in an Australian court. All charges were dropped in a ruling released in late February of this year. The reasoning dismissing the copyright claim was quite simple: the original commission agreement between Ms. Visbal and State Street Global left her with certain rights to create, display, and distribute images of “Fearless Girl” as well as create three-dimensional copies of the statue under certain circumstances. Furthermore, the court found that the agreement gave State Street Global the world-wide, exclusive right to use the images of the statue in relation to representation of women in corporate governance, the financial services sector, or in relation to the company itself. The court found that Maurice Blackburn did not use the statue in this manner, as their campaign focused on gender equality and equal pay and was therefore outside of State Street Global’s exclusive license.
The court further found no trademark infringement, as Maurice Blackburn did not use “Fearless Girl” as a trademark, but merely to refer to the replica of the original.
State Street Global would have saved itself time and money had it properly understood the commission agreement it signed with Ms. Visbal. This lesson is important for artists as well—before you sign that lucrative commission agreement, understand its terms and what you, the artist, retain, and what you are giving away.