But it appears a judge disagrees with the carmaker.
This all started several months ago when four street artists sued Mercedes-Benz for compensation, claiming their murals in Detroit's Eastern Market were used without their permission for one of the automaker's Instagram posts. The vehicle featured in that post was the new Mercedes G-Class which, coincidentally or not, had its official debut at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. A few months ago, Mercedes, in turn, sued the four artists, claiming it had the right to use the Instagram post photos to promote its products and that no copyright laws were broken.
And now, according to the Detroit Free Press, a federal judge apparently disagrees with the automaker. Judge Avern Cohn, from the US District Court in Detroit, said last week the murals have "a uniqueness" and are "entitled to protection." Furthermore, Cohn said he may opt to "realign the parties so that the owner of the work of art which was misappropriated is suing for misappropriation and damage" can move forward.
The artists' attorneys claim Mercedes sued their clients to "bully and intimidate" them "and to send the message that assertions of infringement against the luxury automaker will be met with ferocious and financially ruinous litigation." A Mercedes spokeswoman, however, told the Free Press in an email the automaker is "a strong supporter of the arts throughout the world. We make it a point to fairly compensate artists whose work we seek to use and to comply with all applicable IP (Intellectual Property) laws. This is an unusual situation, and the accusations here do not accurately reflect our actions or our intent."
One of the artists, James "Dabls" Lewis, says that Mercedes used the mural he painted without proper context and without his permission. His mural "honors the African woman in slavery and the African woman going through colonization," he explained to the Free Press. Mercedes, according to him, "defamed" the mural because the published photo was slightly out of focus. "The piece is full of symbolism," Lewis explained. "You can define it as a sacred piece."
Mercedes took down the Instagram post when Lewis initially threatened to sue "as a courtesy," but claims Lewis threatened them if it did not pay him "a substantial sum of money." Lewis says the whole situation could have been avoided if Mercedes wasn't so arrogant, but the automaker clearly does not like being threatened. "These threats were not about protecting artists' rights or ensuring just compensation," said the spokesperson. "They were about disrupting Mercedes-Benz's business and obtaining a cash windfall." It appears a federal judge disagrees.