Scandal in the Newport art world.
Newport, RI born artist Mia Tarducci is suing Bellevue Avenue art gallery owner Kristen Coates in federal court for copyright infringement revolving around a series of works that Coates produced that look eerily similar to works produced by Tarducci. Tarducci is an award winning artist whose works hang in museums, galleries, and public and private art collections all over the world.
In July of 2019, Coates had possession of two paintings from Tarducci’s “Floor Details” series in her Bellevue Avenue art gallery. Coates told Tarducci that she had a client interested in the paintings and that if the client chose not to purchase them, she would put the works in her gallery.
When Coates learned that Tarducci was showing in a separate pop-up, she had Tarducci remove her works from her gallery. This despite the fact that Tarducci and Coates had no written or verbal contract prohibiting Tarducci from showing work in the pop-up or anywhere else for that matter.
According to the federal court filing, Coates’ gallery sells pieces of art and various household items. Coates also operates a website where she offers art and other items for sale and promotes her services as a decorator. The art Coates offers for sale in her store and on her website includes pieces she claims to have created.
In 2016, Tarducci produced a coordinated collection of eight 48″ x 48″ themed paintings referred to as “Floor Details”. Each of the individual works in the “Floor Details” collection is the subject of a United States Copyright Registration.
Tarducci explains the idea behind her series, “I was about to move to my new studio when I was suddenly hit with a profound sadness in leaving the one I was in. A lot had happened in course of the 4 1/2 years I had in there. Professionally my career took off, and personally I was ending a bad marriage as well as other profound life events. I was the only artist to ever occupy that space and it occurred to me that every mark on the floor was mine. I could tell you what I was working on or what was happening in my life with each of those marks. I needed to document that. With much trial and error I care up with the idea of doing the work on linen and settled on 48″ x 48″ squares to represent the tile of my studio floor. In total it took me 5 months to arrive at 8 pieces that I felt conveyed the concept. The idea being that the marks that are left behind are important and beautiful reminders of the act of living or creating.”
These are Mia Tarducci’s “Floor Details” pieces: (48″x48″ on Linen)
This is what Kristen Coates created after being in possession of Mia Tarducci’s art work. (48″x48″ on Linen)
Kristen Coates titled the works “The Cost Of Doing Business” and listed them for sale for $3,000 each.
When Tarducci discovered the infringing works, she sent a letter to Coates asking her to remove the paintings from her website. However, according to the court filing, Coates did not remove the works, they continued to appear on the “Designers” page of the website for months. This despite her pledge through counsel to remove the infringing works from her website and gallery.
According to the Art Law Journal “In order to prevail on a suit in copyright infringement, a copyright owner must show (1) access to the plaintiff’s work and (2) probative similarities between the works. If one can present this evidence and demonstrate that it’s more likely than not that the work was copied, then a claim for copyright infringement will likely prevail.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, first-time copyright infringement cases with a retail value of more than $2,500 can carry a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison. If you get caught more than once in a copyright-infringement case, you could face additional fines of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
“I think that the issue of protecting work is one that artists face more frequently than you may imagine. I have had many artists come to me with stories that make mine pale in comparison but the system intended to help protect them is an onerous one. For many artists, pursuing a federal lawsuit is impossible,” Tarducci said. “It is important to understand however that these matters don’t only affect the artist but also the people who have supported them through patronage. I think it’s important to remember that I have an obligation to protect myself not only for me but the people who have purchased my work.”
“While this is one issue, there are many issues that affect the artists community and their ability to make livable wages to support themselves and their families,” Tarducci continued. “I think this is an opportunity for those discussions to be had and I would encourage more artists to protect their work and their livelihoods.”
Coates’ attorney Mike Farley declined comment for this story.