teamLab, a Japanese collective that produces immersive experiences, is currently suing the Museum of Dream Space (MODS) for copyright infringement. The Japanese company’s original lawsuit was filed in 2019, and recent court documents released on Monday show MODS’ response.
Immersive exhibitions bring in money as shows dedicated to Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt tour the world. In the case of Van Gogh and Da Vinci at least, organizations are taking advantage of the public domain to convert the paintings of these masters into color and light.
teamLab has found huge success in a different type of immersive show that creates peaceful and colorful environments and opened a museum in Tokyo in 2018, while also producing for art institutions like Pace Gallery and multinational conglomerates like Disney. In the first year the teamLab museum was open, the collective brought in $50 million from more than 2 million visitors.
According to teamLabs’ original complaint from 2019, teamLabs accused MODS of copying two shows they produced, Universe of water particles, transcending boundaries (2017) presented at the Pace Gallery in London and crystal universe (2015) to create MODS broadcasts, dream of the season and Galaxy Dream respectively. MODS was founded in 2018. teamLabs also accused MODS of using images of teamLab broadcasts to promote MODS on social media.
In addition to removing MODS exhibits and promotional photos, teamLab is seeking damages for lost revenue. While it can be difficult to judge how many visitors might have missed a teamLab broadcast through MODS, the loss of license fees alone is potentially significant.
“teamLab routinely receives licensing fees in the range of one million to multi-million dollars for six-month licensing terms in connection with exhibitions of its works,” reads the 2019 complaint, which which means that at least MODS might have to pay fees in the millions.
In a response filed by MODS earlier in April, the company’s representation pushed back on several points. MODS claims that since teamLab has no United States copyright registration, they cannot sue. (It should be noted that the United States and Japan are both signatories to the Universal Copyright Convention, so it is unlikely that teamLab would need to file a copyright registration in the United States for its copyright is valid.)
The other point of MODS is knowing what exactly was copied.
“Basically, TL [teamLab] lacks clear and complete evidence of what exactly is included in the alleged violation,” MODS’ response reads. “Elements of the exhibits that TL claims Defendants copied are not original to TL, cannot be protected, or both. These elements are broadly and vaguely defined and cover a multitude of ideas and materials found in earlier installation art.
In the complaints, teamLab alleges that the MODS exhibits were “substantially similar in overall concept and feel”.
MODS’ answer points out that the use of hanging LEDs that change color is a “medium of artistic expression used by many artists”, employed by artists such as Yayoi Kusama.
Both sides requested summary judgment earlier this month and a hearing is scheduled for June. If the court does not render a judgment and MODS and teamLab do not agree on a settlement, a trial will begin in August.
If the lawsuit goes to trial, the court’s decision could have significant implications for the art world, as teamLab’s lawsuit and MODS’ response call into question what, if anything, in an immersive installation is legally protected. by copyright.