Empowerment always comes at a cost, especially on Wall Street.
The investment firm behind “Fearless Girl” is pursuing legal action against the sculpture’s creator, Kristen Visbal, for alleged breach of contract and trademark infringement.
State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) filed its lawsuit against the artist in New York state court on February 14, claiming that she has sold at least three prohibited copies of the statue to costumers around the world. The Massachusetts-based company cites three examples in particular: one for an Australian law firm called Maurice Blackburn; another for real-estate investor Christian Ringnes, who owns the Grand Hotel in Oslo; and a third for the January Women’s March in Los Angeles.
The lawsuit claims that SSGA had already denied Visbal’s request to use a replica of the statue for the LA Women’s March, but that she brought “Fearless Girl” to California anyway.
“Due to Visbal’s flagrant disregard of the material terms of the agreements, and her prior and continuing unwillingness to work with SSGA, SSGA has no choice but to file this action for breach,” the company said.
Last year, Hyperallergic reported that the artist was selling reproductions of the ponytailed bronze for $6,500 each in a limited run of 1,000 miniatures. According to the website advertising these copies, Visbal has already sold at least 114 editions of the statue.
When Hyperallergic spoke with Visbal about the project, she said that the replicas were “in no way associated” with SSGA, and that she owned the copyright to “Fearless Girl.” While copyrights and trademarks both offer intellectual property protection, the former is typically geared toward artistic works while the latter defends brand identity. Accordingly, SSGA’s lawsuit questions Visbal’s ownership of the sculpture by claiming that unauthorized reproductions could damage its status in a global campaign to support corporate gender diversity and female leadership.
But despite SSGA’s claims of empowerment, the company has a history of keeping women and minorities down. In 2017, the firm agreed to pay $5 million to more than 300 women and 15 Black employees in senior positions who received substantially less pay than their white male colleagues, according to a 2012 audit. Per the settlement’s terms of agreement, though, the payout did not “constitute an admission or denial by State Street of any violation.” Bloomberg also reports that the company typically votes against shareholder proposals related to gender pay. And just last year, SSGA received a low rating for the diversity of its gender equality fund. Ironically, “Fearless Girl” was initially deployed as a marketing stunt for the firm’s gender diversity fund before taking on a life of its own.
The asset management firm says that Visbal and her lawyers have “rebuffed all of SSGA’s attempts to communicate.” SSGA also claims that the artist has “made a habit of breaching her contracts,” pointing to a suit filed last month in Delaware state court by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association for a $28,000 commissioned statue of Alexander Hamilton the artist allegedly never issued.
Through the lawsuit, State Street is seeking injunctive relief, damages, and reimbursement of its attorney fees from Visbal. Neither the artist nor SSGA’s lawyers immediately responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment before publication of this article.
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.