The Court of Miami exonerates Cattelan’s Banana

By ruling of June 9th 2023, the District Court of Florida stated that the work of art “Comedian” by Cattelan -representing the famous banana taped on a wall – does not infringe the copyright on Joe Morford’s work Banana and Orange.

The case: Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian accused of copyright infringement

In 2001 the US conceptual artist Joe Morford registered the work titled “Banana and Orange” at the US Copyright Office. The work of Morford is a wall three-dimensional sculpture, representing a banana and an orange made in plastic and taped at the center of two rectangular green panels. In particular, the orange is glued at the center of the upper panel, while the banana is affixed at the center of the lower panel with an inclination of about 45° and the tape crosses it almost perpendicularly.

In 2019 the Paduan artist Maurizio Cattelan exhibits the work “Comedian”, representing a real banana taped directly on the wall. Cattelan’s banana is affixed to the wall in an almost vertical position and the tape crossing it is tilted about 45°.

In 2020 the US artist accused Cattelan of plagiarism, stating that Comedian infringed the copyright on Banana and Orange. As a matter of fact, according to Morford, the work of Cattelan had unlawfully reproduced the same elements he represented 20 years before, i.e., a banana taped on a vertical wall.

The argumentation of the Florida District Court

First of all, the US judge examined the two works, stating that they actually presented some similarities. Nevertheless, the comparison between the two works highlighted also the differences between Morford’s and Cattelan’s work (as the inclination of the fruit and the tape, the background to which the fruit is affixed to and the fact that Cattelan used a real banana and not a plastic one).

After having listed the differences between the two works, the Court stated that the investigation carried out did not bring out any evidence that Cattelan saw the work of Morford before exhibiting his own. Therefore, it could not reasonably state that Cattelan had copied or that, anyway, had taken inspiration from Morford.

The decision of the Court

On the basis of such consideration, the Court stated that the work of Cattelan does not infringe Morford’s copyright on the work Banana and Orange. As a matter of fact, given the objective differences between the two works, the only common element is the presence of a banana taped on a vertical wall.

Such element, according to the Court, cannot be considered to be copyright protected. Otherwise – the Court explains – Morford should be attributed the copyright on the idea to tape a banana on a wall a conclusion that would translate in the imposition of a legal limit on a number of ways in which a banana can be taped without copying other artists and that cannot be compatible with the copyright law.

Ilaria Feriti