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Immersive art, immersed in copyright disputes?

Immersive art brings a whole new dimension to how a piece or installation is appreciated and understood. Just as the public get to engage with new sensory presentations of works, courts get to wrestle with a new and rich source of copyright disputes.

As previously reported here, the immersive art movement has garnered growing enthusiasm internationally. Recently, the Grand Palais announced that it will dedicate an area to immersive digital experiences when it reopens in 2024. Grand Palais Immersif's initiative will be exported nationally following its inaugural launch of the interactive Mona Lisa exhibition, co-organised with the Musee du Louvre. The more that exhibitions like these appear across the globe, and the more exposure they get on social media, the more competitors will need to be careful to avoid falling foul of copyright laws around the world.

Artnet have reported here that TeamLab Borderless discovered this to its cost recently when a Chinese court ruled against its use of a name that was almost identical to a competitor’s, and its near-identical copying that same competitor’s immersive art.

The competitor in question is TeamLab – a Japanese art collective at the forefront of immersive art experiences. Teamlab Borderless replicated TeamLab’s 2016 installation, Forest of Resonating Lamps, with one or two minor changes. The replicated work was displayed outside rather than indoors, for instance. But in all material respects, the work was a copy. Even the name was strikingly similar. TeamLab Borderless called it: TeamLab Borderless Breathing Forest Light Exhibition

Artnet say that the court recognised TeamLab’s copyright, pointing to the striking similarity of the aesthetics and title of the works. In doing so, it considered that TeamLab's work has been widely acclaimed internationally and so should have been known to the Chinese public, including Teamlab Borderless, before its replication. 

Not only is the decision has reported a warning against unscrupulous copying, it is yet another indication that Chinese courts are ready to enforce international arts businesses’ IP rights in the proper circumstances. 

A common feature of many Chinese IP decisions is the importance of a demonstrable reputation within China (particularly in the absence of registered IP). The requisite strength of this reputation may vary depending on the circumstances. Success in court is by no means guaranteed. Where trademarks and copyright works can be registered, they should be. 

Setting an important precedent for the copyright of experiential art in China, the immersive art sensation teamLab has won a lawsuit against a company that imitated one of the group’s signature light shows and used its name to promote it.

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