Picasso Family Feud, NFTs and Intellectual Property Laws - Boodle Hatfield

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08 Feb 2022

Picasso Family Feud, NFTs and Intellectual Property Laws

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4 min read

As widely reported, and covered in our Art Law & More blog, one of Picasso's granddaughters, Marina Picasso, and her son, DJ and music producer Florian Picasso, have seemingly been thwarted, at least partly, by other family members, the Administrators of the Estate of Picasso and the Picasso Administration, a foundation set up to manage the art collections of other heirs to Picasso, three of his surviving children and two of his grandchildren. 

They planned to sell a 1958 Picasso ceramic at a live auction owned by Marina, mint the piece as 1,010 NFT editions and also release an accompanying song with John Legend and Nas.

A statement on the Picasso Administration website reads: 

"Mrs Marina Ruiz-Picasso, Mr Florian Picasso, the Administrators of the Estate Picasso, Mr Claude Ruiz-Picasso, as well as Picasso Administration, would like to point out that, to date, there is no "Picasso" NFT authorized by the Estate Picasso, the NFT of Mr Florian Picasso, and the artists with whom he collaborates, being their own creation, independently of any claim in reference to Pablo Picasso and his works.

The information given by the Media that the heirs of Picasso had entered the Pablo Picasso NFT market is therefore totally erroneous."

This intervention has not prevented the NFTs being minted and offered for sale. The outcome is the sale of the original ceramic has not gone ahead (yet), but the 1,010 Pablo Picasso NFTs have been released in stages on Nifty Gateway and a dedicated website powered by Origin Protocol. These are digital animations based on a ceramic in Marina's personal collection. As reported by Artnet.com the release has been a "Bit of a Flop". 

Instead of positioning the NFTs as part of the work of Pablo Picasso, they are stated to be new creations by Marina and Florian. An example can be viewed here.

 Nifty Gateway included the following disclaimer:

"The NFTs are the personal creation of Marina and Florian Picasso - not related to Pablo Picasso, his name and his work."

The song with John Legend and Nas ft. Florian Picasso was released 4 days ago (and can be listened to on YouTube here). 

The key question here is why did Marina and Florian drop the association with the name Pablo Picasso?

This is likely to be governed by French intellectual property laws. Similarly to the UK, in France copyright protection for a creator's economic rights lasts for 70 years from the death of the creator. Picasso died in 1973, and so there remains over 20 years until the copyright expires. In addition, in France, moral rights are perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible. They include, amongst others, the right of integrity, enabling an author to ensure the form and spirit of the work will be respected and to oppose unauthorised modification of the works.  

For these reasons, the Administrators of the Estate Picasso would certainly have been able to object to the planned NFT drop that associated itself with Pablo Picasso, as the above disclaimer implies they have. Perhaps this would explain the last minute changes and panicked statements in the media by all concerned. Although one can only speculate what may have gone on behind the scenes, it is apparent that Marina and Florian may have skirted infringing the rights of the Estate by calling the NFTs their own creations. 

Further, perhaps it can be said that what they have created, a series of digital animations, is so far removed from the original creation that they may not be considered a direct infringement of the original ceramic they are based upon. There may be more to come on this as it is unclear if any legal action will be taken against Marina and Florian or if there was a separate behind the scenes agreement. Either way, the Estate of Pablo Picasso is run in a very careful and controlled manner. The launch of an NFT collection without their approval will have certainly ruffled some feathers.

In the UK, except for the right to object to false attribution, moral rights are not perpetual, so once copyright has expired, anyone can make copies of previously copyright works for economic gain. 

There is however one rather quaint exception to this. In 1929, the author, JM Barrie, gifted the rights to his play, Peter Pan, to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. The copyright in this work expired in 1987, 50 years after his death (as was the time period for literary works in the UK at the time). However, in 1988 Parliament introduced a perpetual right to royalties for the use of the Peter Pan play, payable to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.

Nothing in this post shall constitute legal advice.

Marina and Florian are not the first family of an artist to have turned to digital art as a means to take advantage of the recent boom in NFTs. However, the family feud that resulted points to the legal complications of both NFTs and artists’ estates.

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