In 2012 Dentsu ad shop mcgarrybowen created an arty TV ad for the Honda CRV with the tagline “Do More New.” Narrated by Prairie Home Companion star Garrison Keillor, it featured the CRV and its driver who appeared to be watching a house, the center of which suddenly morphs into a conical-shaped portal through which the Honda then zooms as if launching into space.
But according to two Houston artists, the ad is a little too arty—in a way that copies a sculpture they created a few years back featuring a very similar conical portal design protruding from the center of a house. They called it “Inversion,” and now claim in a lawsuit that Honda and mcgarrybowen (and parent Dentsu among others) misappropriated their intellectual property in violation of copyright laws.
The defendants have countered that the artists don’t have a case and have asked the U.S. District Court in Houston where the lawsuit was filed to toss it.
The plaintiffs, Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, said in court papers that Honda, the agency, Dentsu and two production entities involved in making the ad all profited handsomely. They want the proceeds—times three because they allege that the defendants intentionally violated their rights.
“’Inversion’ has received numerous awards and acclamation in the art community throughout the world and is featured in several art books and other publications,” the plaintiffs asserted. The work has been viewed “by millions of people around the world,” the pair said, asserting that they own the copyright to the work “and all derivative works pertaining thereto.”
The artists claimed that when the defendants originally approached them last year about using a conical shaped portal through a house they were shown mock ups that looked nothing like their own work of art. But shortly before the ad launched on TV, and the Internet they were given a peek at the nearly finished product which featured an “identical version” of their work.
But Honda has fired back saying Havel and Ruck don’t have a case because they copyrighted “Inversion” well after the ad was created. Under copyright law, the carmaker said, “fees are available only when a copyrighted work is registered prior to the commencement of infringement, or within three months of the work’s first publication. According to Honda, “Inversion” was created in 2005 but the artists didn’t register the work for a copyright until February of this year.
In a separate filing, mcgarrybowen and Dentsu also seek dismissal of the case, arguing that Houston is not the proper jurisdiction. “The Plaintiffs have sued Honda’s Japanese parent company, two U.S.-based Honda subsidiaries, three U.S.-based advertising companies, and a U.S.-based editing company,” the defendants argued. “None of these companies conceived, developed, worked on or broadcast the advertisement at issue. The one company that Plaintiffs have served that did work on the advertisement – Dentsu McGarry Bowen UK, Ltd. – is a UK company without the sufficient minimum contacts to subject it to personal jurisdiction in Texas. None of the other moving defendants, likewise, are not subject to personal jurisdiction in Texas.”