Fearless Girl, the bronze statue that immediately went viral after it was installed in downtown Manhattan two years ago as a symbol to promote gender diversity on Wall Street, is now at the heart of a trademark and breach of contract lawsuit.
State Street Global Advisors, the Massachusetts-based investment company that commissioned Fearless Girl, filed a lawsuit against its creator, Delaware-based artist Kristen Visbal, on February 14 in New York State Supreme Court.
State Street says that the artist has made at least three unauthorized reproductions of the statue so far: one for Maurice Blackburn, an Australian law firm that specializes in personal injury, class actions, and financial services; one for real-estate investor Christian Ringnes, who is the owner of the Grand Hotel in Oslo; and a third statue that Visbal brought to the Women’s March in Los Angeles last month.
Neither Visbal nor attorneys for State Street Global were immediately available for comment.
State Street wants to “safeguard its interests” in the Fearless Girl statue and uphold the message it stands for, the company says in its complaint, alleging that Visbal’s unauthorized reproductions could damage its status in a global campaign to support corporate gender diversity and female leadership.
The company describes itself as one of the largest asset managers in the world. It also sponsors and manages the “SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF,” a fund designed to measure the performance of companies that display gender diversity in their leadership.
To celebrate the launch of the fund, “in the pre-dawn hours of International Woman’s Day 2017, [SSGA] introduced the world to Fearless Girl by placing her at Bowling Green in New York City,” according to the complaint.
Fearless Girl garnered more than one billion Twitter impressions in the first 12 hours it was up, “becoming an icon herself,” the court papers note. Millions of Manhattan tourists and natives have flocked to see the bronze sculpture, they say, “a symbol of courage and change that is inexorably intertwined with both New York City and SSGA.”
The company says it does not know the full extent of Visbal’s alleged breach and that the artist and her attorney have refused its attempts to communicate.
The investment firm says it first learned of the issue from a news story headlined “Fearless Girl is Coming to Australia,” which “makes it seem—incorrectly—that the statue arriving is actually the statue owned by SSGA that resides in NYC,” the court papers say.
State Street says when it reached out to the artist with its concerns about the Australian commission, Visbal confirmed that the Maurice Blackburn law firm was her client and referred to it as “a social justice group,” according to the court papers.
The firm says it gave formal notice of her breaches but has not received a reply.
The State Street agreement requires the artist to obtain its approval to use replicas during “certain promotional events.” But last month when Visbal sought approval to bring a replica of the statue to the Women’s March in Los Angeles, State Street denied her request. The complaint alleges that Visbal proceeded anyway.
The artist allegedly blamed State Street for the breach by saying that a two-week waiting period for a response was too long, and that the investment firm was late in its reply anyway.
State Street is seeking injunctive relief, damages, and reimbursement of its attorney fees.
Visbal is also facing a separate lawsuit, filed by the US Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association which claims that she failed to make a nine-foot bronze replica of Alexander Hamilton that was intended as a gift for the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The suit says Visbal and her company are now in breach of a $28,000 contract.
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