The qualification as author of an intellectual work in the “conceptual art” era: the idea prevails on the execution.

The case Maurizio Cattelan vs Daniel Druet puts at the center of the controversy between the two artists the ownership of the intellectual work made on commission.

On July 8th 2022, the Court of Paris rejected, for a procedural technicality, the request of Daniel Druet, a French sculptor of wax works, to be declared the author of some famous wax works he made, commissioned by Maurizio Cattelan, an Italian contemporary artist known at international level.

Thought the Court of Paris declared Daniel Druet’s request not admissible for “not having sued Maurizio Cattelan, presumable author”, it analyzed in the relative judgment the defenses of the French sculptor identifying some diriment aspects in the issue of the ownership of such works.

Daniel Druet claimed to be the author of the contested works and not just a mere executor of the same works having received only “vague indications” from Cattelan and having therefore attributed to the same works his own personal touch.

During the trial, the judges gave relevance to other and documented facts ruling that the contested works “have always been presented in the name of Cattelan. He was the only one to manage their staging”. In their decision, by recalling the founding principles of copyright law, the Parisian judges highlighted in particular the protection of the work in the context of conceptual and behavioral art, able in the artistic act to replace the technique (such as the one of sculpting and painting) with the conceptualization and imagination of the work.

From the judgment of the Court of Paris clearly emerges the aspect that the answer to the juridical question “who is the author of the contested intellectual works?” requires their correct historical and artistical placement.

This case shows that the protection of the intellectual work of an artist goes through the historical-artistical context in which it is born and develops. Therefore, the qualification as author in case of a commissioned work has to be found considering every single case on its own, evaluating with attention who is the commissioner of the work and the specific nature of the commissioned work.

In the case under exam, both the commissioner and the executor are artists. The problem is not that one is more an artist than the other but that the ideation and the conceptualization of the works in exam which are placed in the context of conceptual and behavioral art are due to Maurizio Cattelan while Daniel Druet is responsible for their execution.

Therefore, in the context described in the judgment, the conception and the ideation of a work constitute the so-called ideological content of the intellectual work to protect. If it was not so, the only technical execution of the work would be sufficient to attribute the qualification of author to the person responsible of its realization, nullifying consequently the same notion of intellectual work – as psychic formation and/or ideological content of the mind – and the same concept of creativity intended as both relative novelty and originality, as the intellectual work must always originate from the psychic activity of a human being.

The case decided by the Parisian judges on the ownership of the work in exam is therefore agreeable because it actualizes the search of the author placing it in the historical-artistical context of the moment: in the case of conceptual art, the artist/author is the one who, by pursuing a search for ideal and theoretic order, favors the process, the conceptual and constructive scheme which determines the work of art. This solution consistent with the French law provisions aimed to the protection of the author is applicable even in the context of the Italian law, which is also designed and built for the protection of the author’s interests.


Maria Luisa Milanesi