Wynwood Artists File a Lawsuit Against Rich Wilkerson Jr.'s Church for Unlawful Use of Their Artwork
Rich Wilkerson Jr. is making headlines again after a group of artists is suing his church, Vous, for copyright infringement.
Photo by Stian Roenning
Becoming a viral sensation after marrying America's royal couple, Kanye
Now Wilkerson is making headlines for a different reason.
Eight well-known local artists — Magnus Sodamin, Martin Whatson, Santiago Rubino, Joshua Santos Rivera (Bikismo), Derek Kanterman (Derek Hunter), Michael Andrew Gran (
In November 2014, Robert de
Vous Church advertising featuring the work of Magnus Sodamin.
Vous Church, which rents the auditorium at the middle school for Sunday services, launched an advertising campaign in July 2015 that used images of the artwork found on the walls of JDD. None of the artists was contacted for permission.
"What happened is that [Vous Church] used images of artists from the middle school and never once reached out to anyone — not me, who organized the whole project, not the principal of the school, not any of the artists — not anyone," de
"The point is that no one reached out, ever."
The lawsuit backs up the claim and states that school officials informed Trinity it needed permission before using the artwork but that the church never made an attempt.
"One big issue is the mistaken belief that works that are publicly visible or publicly displayed are somehow in the public domain. This is simply incorrect," says Andrew Gerber of Kushnirsky Gerber, the law firm representing the eight artists in the lawsuit. "Just because something is visible to the public or posted publicly online does not mean that it is in the public domain or that the creator of that work has waived any intellectual property rights."
(By the way, Gerber also represented AholSniffsGlue in the highly publicized legal battle between the artist and American Eagle Outfitters, which originated when the retailer used
Vous Church advertising featuring the work of Martin Whatson (left) and AholSniffsGlue.
"[Vous] has nothing to do with the mural project or the school; it's just a third party renting out the auditorium. So when they go ahead and use the works of artists to promote their church without permission, that's not right," de
According to the lawsuit filed by the artists, "The media and advertising campaign for the Vous launch made extensive use of the school murals, while placing Wynwood street art and social media outreach at the center of the marketing promotion. Indeed, the majority of the advertisements featured nothing more than the Vous logo and meeting information superimposed over the school murals."
Jimmy Carr: The Best Of, Ultimate, Gold, Greatest Hits Tour
TicketsFri., Mar. 31, 8:00pm
Illusionist Rick Thomas
TicketsFri., Mar. 31, 8:00pm
Katt Williams: Great America Tour
TicketsFri., Mar. 31, 8:30pm
Friday Night Live
TicketsFri., Mar. 31, 9:00pm
TicketsFri., Mar. 31, 10:00pm
These murals were the "cornerstone" of the Vous launch and depicted in a light that implied the artists were promoting the church.
Flipping the coin on its head, de
The lawsuit also mentions how Trinity Church "committed substantial financial resources to the launch of the Vous brand" and "sought to raise $300,000 for the purchase of high-end production equipment." So if they are spending money on advertising and high-end equipment, why did they not see fit to pay the artists to use their works?
Exterior of Jose de Diego Middle School, featuring a mural by Magnus Sodamin.
Photo by Shelly Davidov
And Wilkerson isn't exactly living the pauper lifestyle often associated with the people who dedicate their lives to serving the Lord. He and his wife, DawnCheré Wilkerson, live in a "penthouse duplex luxury apartment in Miami, complete with outdoor terraces and rooftop pool," according to the lawsuit. He also released a book, Sandcastle Kings: Meeting Jesus in a Spiritually Bankrupt World, complete with a Kanye-designed cover, in November. And Wilkerson and his wife star on the Oxygen reality show Rich in Faith, which is halfway through its first season.
Moreover, Trinity Church owns property in North Miami and Miami Gardens with a combined value of $10.8 million, and Wilkerson's parents — Rich Wilkerson Sr. and Robyn Wilkerson — own a 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home in the posh area of Golden Beach.
"[What the church is doing is] taking from a project that is there for the kids, whose purpose is to raise money for the school," de
Yet even if Wilkerson and his team would have reached out for permission, the lawsuit clearly states — and de
"The hope here is that when this ends — in whichever way it ends — things go back to normal and in the future things are done correctly. I hope that in the
Since the lawsuit was filed, the artists are not at liberty to comment for this story. Vous Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.