Ca. Litig. Rev. 2020

Art Law

By Simon J. Frankel & Sean Howell

There were several cases concerning art law in 2020 that should be of interest to California litigators. A long-running legal battle over rights to a Nazi-looted Pissarro painting concluded with a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Spanish government was not required to return the painting, though the court chided Spain for not doing so voluntarily. In a separate case, the Ninth Circuit held that a gallery had a viable defamation claim against a person who had asserted that a painting was not by the artist the gallery claimed, reversing the district court’s finding for the defendant on summary judgment. Finally, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected a motion to dismiss copyright claims brought by a photographer who took an iconic image of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, holding among other points that, despite the photograph’s popularity, the question of when the photographer learned that his rights were being infringed by the photograph’s reproduction could not be resolved on a motion to dismiss.

After Fifteen-Year Legal Battle, Ninth Circuit Affirms Spanish Foundation’s Right to Keep Nazi-Looted Pissarro Painting

A long-running dispute over a painting by the French Impressionist Camille Pissarro that had been stolen by the Nazi regime in 1939 came to an end when the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of the defendant.1 The Ninth Circuit panel chided the Spanish government for not returning the painting, but held such an outcome was not dictated by Spanish law.

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