Last week a federal judge ordered Russian-born, Florida-based billionaire Igor Olenicoff to pay sculptor John Raimondi $640,000 for having unauthorized copies of his work made in China and installed at his development sites. However, US District Judge Andrew Guilford denied the artist’s request that the fakes be scrapped; instead, the stainless steel sculptures will be given new plaques attributing them to Raimondi.
“[Olenicoff] would, of course, have to spend time, money, and effort in removing and replacing the sculptures if the injunction is granted,” the judge wrote in his decision, according to Courthouse News. “As for [Raimondi], he has already been compensated for the ongoing rights to display the sculptures. It is true that he must live with what amounts to a forced license, something that copyright law disfavors, but under the circumstances this hardship does not exceed [Olenicoff’s].” The decision, which forces Raimondi to accept that four sculptures made without his consent or involvement will hereafter be attributed to him, is unprecedented.
“Judge Guilford, in his Order in the Raimondi case, stated that his decision essentially amounts to a forced license, which he acknowledges is disfavored in copyright law,” Gene J. Brockland, a partner at Herzog Crebs and Raimondi’s lead counsel in the case, told Hyperallergic. “We believe he should have allowed the jury’s $640,00 verdict to stand AND ordered the four infringing copies destroyed. Anything short of that is a forced license, and I am not aware of any case in law supporting what amounts to a forced license. While we were happy that Judge Guilford at least ordered that placards be placed on the infringing copies indicating that they are ‘unauthorized copies,’ we felt that did not go far enough.”
The works in question are four copies of two sculptures by Raimondi, “Dian” (1987) and “Ceres” (1994), retitled in Olenicoff’s versions as “Link to Compassion” and “Intertwined,” respectively. They are installed at the Century Centre and Olen Pointe developments in Irvine and Brea, California, respectively, both projects built by Olenicoff’s real estate company, Olen Properties. In order to comply with local percent-for-art ordinances, Olenicoff had inquired in 2001 about commissioning sculptures by Raimondi for his developments. According to the artist’s original complaint, the two met in person twice to discuss the commissions, and during the second meeting Raimondi provided several photographs showing existing editions of the sculptures from various angles. “Beginning approximately ten days after the second meeting, Olenicoff refused to speak with Raimondi,” the complaint recounts. “Defendants instead had an assistant relay to Raimondi that Olenicoff had a change of heart about the sculptures.”
Nine years later, a representative of the City of Brea contacted Raimondi to tell him that a copy of one of his sculptures was on view in the Olen Pointe development, but that a plaque attributed it to a Chinese sculptor. In his lawsuit, filed in 2012, the artist demanded not only a permanent injunction preventing Olen Properties and Olenicoff from creating future unauthorized copies of his work, but also that any existing copies be destroyed.
This isn’t the first time public sculpture shenanigans have landed both Olenicoff and Raimondi in court. In 2014 sculptor Donald Wakefield was awarded $450,000 after six unauthorized copies of his work, also produced in China, turned up at Olen Pointe and Century Centre. And earlier this year Raimondi sued the Palm Beach Opera for allegedly removing his bronze sculpture “Spirit Ascending” from its grounds and selling it for scrap.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.