Riley / Rehberger plagiarism row reaches agreement

Tobias Rehberger is a German artist, famous for his large scale installations, notably “Slinky springs to to fame” – a giant ‘slinky’ bridge corssing the Rhein-Herne Canal in the Imperial Garden, Oberhausen.

Slinky Springs To Fame

Slinky Springs To Fame

A few years ago he was commissioned to create a piece for the Berlin National Library. The result was “Uhrenobjekt” (“Watch Object”) a giant black and white checkered painting that bore a marked similarity to Bridget Riley‘s “Movement in Squares“. Riley was not pleased.

Rehberger's "Uhrenobjekt" - photo by Jörg F. Müller

Rehberger’s “Uhrenobjekt” – photo by Jörg F. Müller

Bridget Riley - Movement in Squares

Bridget Riley’s “Movement in Squares”

Bridget Riley quickly launched a plagiarism lawsuit against Rehberger demanding the removal of the painting from the Library. The German courts didn’t grant the removal request but as a result of the suit, the painting has been covered up for over a year.

The case has now been resolved and the painting is back on display with a new title: “Uhrenobjekt nach Movement in Squares von Bridget Riley” (“Watch Object after Movement in Squares by Bridget Riley”).

It’s an interesting case. Clearly the works are very similar but there are also differences – the grid is not the same for example, nor the location of the ‘fold’. Is it really possible for Riley to claim copyright over a black and white grid in that way? I have a lot of sympathy for Riley here but it’s a difficult case. It’s also not the first time Riley has gone to court to protect her work – in the 1960s she famously sued a fashion house for creating a range of clothing  that used one of her pieces as the pattern. She lost that case. On balance it appears that she has probably lost this one too although the name change is at least some kind of consolation.

Riley / Rehberger plagiarism row reaches agreement by

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