A greeting card company's attempt to take over the trademark to Banksy's name led the anonymous artist to create a new project designed to protect the rights to his name—with the larger goal of supporting asylum seekers' rights.
Overnight Tuesday, Banksy unveiled a storefront under the name Gross Domestic Product in the London suburb of Croydon. The store's merchandise will only be sold online for the next two weeks in order for Banksy to establish—as a way to satisfy the UK legal system—that he owns and is actively utiliizing his trademark.
The store is the result of a dispute with a company that attempted to take over Banksy's trademark—an action they were legally able to take because the artist, who has historically eschewed copyright of his paintings and installations, does not sell merchandise.
Banksy's lawyer, Mark Stephens, called the greeting card company's attempt to use the artist's name to sell fraudulent merchandise "frankly ludicrous."
"I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal, and amend my art for amusement, academic research, or activism. I just don't want them to get sole custody of my name." —Banksy"Banksy is in a difficult position," Stephens told The Guardian. "Because he doesn't produce his own range of shoddy merchandise and the law is quite clear—if the trademark holder is not using the mark, then it can be transferred to someone who will."
All proceeds from Gross Domestic Product's sales will go toward a new migrant rescue boat to replace a Spanish NGO's ship, Open Arms, that was confiscated by Italian authorities last year after it docked in a port carrying more than 200 refugees.
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"The proceeds from these products will go towards buying a new migrant rescue boat," Banksy said in a statement. "So you may well be committing a criminal offense by purchasing them."
The items on display in the storefront include a disco ball made from a police helmet, a toy including figures representing migrants and a truck for children to place them in, and a stab-proof vest.
On social media, local media reported that Gross Domestic Product was met with curiosity and excitement in Croydon on Tuesday.
Excitement levels in #Croydon this morning are NEXT LEVEL! A #Banksy installation has appeared at the end of Surrey Street (under the @PureGym). 5 windows (and counting) of work from one of the most important artists of our time on display on our doorstep #EastCroydonCool pic.twitter.com/h2RfbhtbN2
— East Croydon Cool (@EastCroydonCool) October 1, 2019
Banksy said in a statement that he remains skeptical of copyrighting his artwork.
"I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal, and amend my art for amusement, academic research, or activism," he said. "I just don't want them to get sole custody of my name."