Last month, on International Women’s Day, the “Fearless Girl” statue was installed in New York City’s Financial District as a symbol of female empowerment, standing opposite the iconic “Charging Bull” statue that has come to symbolize Wall Street.  However, earlier this month, the sculptor who created the “Charging Bull” said “Fearless Girl” violates his copyright and subverts the bull’s meaning.

The “Charging Bull” was created 30 years ago after the stock market crash to convey a positive, optimistic message.  The sculptor of the bull, Arturo Di Modica, says that it carries a meaning of “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love,” but now, because of the placement of “Fearless Girl,” the bull no longer carries that message.

“Fearless Girl” was created by State Street Global Advisors, who commissioned an artist to cast the four-foot bronze girl specifically to make a statement about women empowerment.  The plaque at the feet of “Fearless Girl” reads:  “Know the power of women in leadership.  SHE makes a difference.”  The girl quickly became a global sensation, which generated a campaign to make “Fearless Girl” a permanent fixture.

However, lawyers for Di Modica have accused State Street of conceiving “Fearless Girl” with “Charging Bull” in mind, and of improperly capitalizing on the bull in violation of its copyright.  Furthermore, the lawyers also assert that the city violated the sculptor’s rights by issuing permits to allow “Fearless Girl” to stand across the bull without the sculptor’s permission.

The sculptor’s challenge under U.S. Copyright law will remain to be seen.  Copyright law protects original, creative works and grants the artist exclusive right to, inter alia, reproduce the work and to prepare derivative works based on the original.  Obviously, copying is not at issue, as “Fearless Girl” is not a copy of “Charging Bull.”  But the question is whether it is a derivative work.  There is not a single component that “Fearless Girl” shares with the bull, yet its placement and dependence on the bull may be an argument utilized by the sculptor’s lawyers.  However, State Street may be able to defeat the claim by way of the fair use defense which allows for comment and criticism.

With this mounting dispute, the takeaway is that you must do your homework if your work utilizes works created by others and, if needed, permission should be obtained before you set out to create and publicize your work.