“SMC's (the dealer) use of the piece of art constituted a violation of the marketing law's paragraph… on good marketing practises,” the tribunal ruled.
In 2017, SMC used a photo of a Volkswagen Polo parked in front of an Ai Weiwei art installation in Copenhagen to promote the launch of a new car on its website and in the dealer's customer magazine.
The work by the 61-year-old dissident artist, entitled “Soleil Levant”, comprised 3,500 life jackets collected from refugees who had arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos between 2015 and 2016, crammed into the windows of the Charlottenborg art gallery in Nyhavn, Copenhagen.
The court held that commercial use of the work was a “clear contradiction of the considerations and thoughts behind the work,” noting the misuse could be harmful to the artist's reputation.
SMC was ordered to pay 1.5 million kroner for unlawful use of the work and an additional 250,000 for non-financial damages.
The artist announced his intention to sue the dealer in a post on Instagram in March.
“The infringing material was circulated to over 200,000 people, giving the false impression that I had authorized Volkswagen to use my artwork in its ad for the new Polo,” he stated.
The son of a poet revered by former communist leaders, Ai Weiwei helped design the famous “Bird's Nest”-stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but fell out of favour after criticising the Chinese government.
Ai Weiwei was imprisoned for 81 days in 2011 in China and has been denied a passport for four years. He has been living in Europe since 2015.