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Screenshot of Colleen Wolstenholme’s lawsuit against Damien Hirst, whose bracelet is on the right (screenshot via PACER)

In a suit that shows people will sue over just about anything, a Canadian artist is accusing Damien Hirst of copyright infringement — because a series of his bracelets features similar pill-shaped charms as hers. She is now seeking damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs as well as permanent injunctions preventing Hirst from further use and sale of her oh-so incredibly original designs.

The Nova Scotia-based Colleen Wolstenholme filed the complaint against Hirst and his publishing company Other Criteria on June 10. In the documents — which Hyperallergic attained through PACER — she specifies that she has since 1996 been creating 3D sculptures “derived from lost-wax castings of pharmaceutical pills” that she uses to adorn bracelets, necklaces, rosaries, cufflinks, and rings, among other accessories. Hirst, she says, has ripped off these designs since 2004 with his own charm bracelets, which feature cast forms of 16 different pills, also available in either silver or gold. What’s more, Wolstenholme claims “upon information and belief,” he was aware of her and her pieces — which she’s branded “Wolstenholme Works” — as early as March 1998.

Wolstenholme is taking up the case in a Manhattan federal court as both artists regularly conduct business in New York, which is also home to Other Criteria’s headquarters. Although she owns several Canadian copyright registrations for her pill charm, a bracelet, and a pendant, the US Copyright Office in January rejected her request to claim copyright over the pill charms, saying they “lacked sufficient authorship to support a copyright claim,” as per the court documents.

Wolstenholme, however, won’t give it up, arguing that her jewelry constitutes copyrightable subject matter as the charms are “fixed in a tangible medium, original, and possess a minimal degree of creativity.” She has another request pending for her charmed-adorned bracelets.

For his part, Hirst has remained quiet, likely because Wolstenholme’s case is just ridiculous. What’s next: attempts to sue Jeff Koons for using balloon dogs? But we understand the bitterness. It must really suck to see Hirst’s works go for anywhere between $15,000 and $35,000 when your own sells for less than a tenth of that.

h/t The Fashion Law

Update, 6/18: In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for Hirst’s company Science Ltd. denied Wolstenholme’s claims of infringement, writing:

We refute the claim made by Colleen Wolstenholme. Damien Hirst signed his earliest pill work in 1988, long before Wolstenholme created her first jewelry. We will defend any action brought against Damien.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

21 replies on “Artist Suing Damien Hirst Over Charm Bracelets Needs to Take a Chill Pill [UPDATED]”

  1. Nice to see Alternet both defending Hirst, an artist widely known for stealing the work of other, less wealthy and powerful artists just because he can as well as comparing the suit to suing Koons over balloon dogs when Koons has actually sued others over balloon dogs.

    Hey, maybe next you can defend Richard Prince.

  2. Not surprised the USCO didn’t accept the registration, as jewelry and many objects are given very little intellectual property protection, (even though art ON those products may be entirely copyright-able, assuming it doesn’t already belong to someone else, like in this case, maybe the drug co’s!). Also not surprised to see another of the ‘high end’ art world’s darlings caught copying. Even if her suit has no merit, legally, copying someone else’s work is just pathetic.

      1. Use of the drugs’ shapes, etc, could be a ‘fair use’ argument, but the original artist might well win it, because it is commentary on how common these drugs are in society. Her bracelet is therefore, IMO, not just jewelry or craft, but the message puts it in possible ‘art’ territory. Because the bracelet is a ‘useful object’ like clothing, it enjoys little protection, so it was not surprising she couldn’t copyright in the US. But she’s not a US citizen, nor is Hirst. I feel the original artist is probably in the right even if it’s only an ethical right. Hirst, whether or not he can win a case, still gets publicity which is part of appropriation artists’ schtick. He is still an unoriginal copycat, and I don’t know how anyone convinces people to invest in that. Snake oil sales tactics I guess.

  3. Your arrogance (Yes, you, Voon!) is unprecedented…and to borrow your own words, teetering in the realm of ‘ridiculous.’ How dare you diminish the work of another artist because you have some sort of misplaced trust in, and appreciation of, the work (and antics) of Damien Hirst. If Wolstenholme was the first to make 3D casts of pills and add them to a bracelet, so be it. Your snarky if not entirely ignorant commentary has no place here.

  4. I must join the choir here and say that I too question the tone in this piece. Why ridicule this jeweler? It’s one thing to disagree for practical or legal reasons, but the inability of the writer to keep her own sentiments from spilling out into snide remarks in the text is unprofessional, bad reporting.

      1. I actually don’t think it is the same thing (charm bracelet vs balloon dogs) nor is it my point. To clarify: my comment was about the writing, not the opinion itself. I think the tone is out of line.

          1. How many charm bracelets have you seen with cast pills on them? Also Koons dropped the lawsuit, which is not the same as losing it.

          2. They don’t look identical to her bracelet like his does. The concept is the same, but not the execution.

  5. For me, this bit makes clear CV is not unaware of why the jeweler would feel this way: “But we understand the bitterness. It must really suck to see Hirst’s works go for anywhere between $15,000 and $35,000 when your own sells for less than a tenth of that.” Must admit I wish that we were an I, but I am generally no fan of the pronoun we. For me this case, and others, is interesting because it shows the power of name appeal: even if Hirst has copied, many would still want his copies not the “originals.” To carelessly evoke, Benjamin: the aura is all in the reproduction.

    1. I think these bracelets are boring–but I do love DH’s formaldehyde pieces, which I feel are brilliant.

  6. How in God’s name can you defend Hirst when you know he is the biggest rip-off creature in the known universe. Wolstenholme has every right to sue for such a blatant rip-off of her whimsical work. Wash your mouth out with soap.

  7. Pancakes and portmanteaux? Pretentious much? That aside, perhaps you should ask Damien Hirst for a job writing ad copy, because you’ve failed as a journalist. There’s nothing “hip” in taking the side of a well-known plagiarist against that of a jeweler who can prove that she originated the design.

  8. I know Colleen Wolstenholme personally and want to clarify that she is an exhibiting artist, a sculptor, not a “jeweler” as many articles have stated. Colleen has been making pill sculptures of various forms, materials and sizes since the late 1980s. Her pill jewelry is an offshoot of her sculptural art practice, just as Hirst’s jewelry, coffee mugs and T-shirt are an offshoot of his. Copyright is a fickle form manipulated by conceptual artists and wealthy lawyers.

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