The painting “Autumn Leaves” by respected Russian artist Alexei Butirskiy adorns Yankee Candles sold in its stores and at Bed Bath & Beyond. The original work depicts a line of trees whose leaves are turning bright orange and falling to the ground under a misty sky, an image well-suited to a scented candle called “November Rain.”
However, there’s a problem: Yankee Candle never got the right to use the image from Butirskiy’s publisher and exclusive art dealer, Thomas Charles Editions. The copyright infringement suit naming Getty Images, Yankee Candle, and Bed Bath & Beyond was filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona by Joel Rothman of Schneider Rothman IP Law Group, along with Steve Schlackman of Strategy IP Law in Miami, and Michael Gerity of Israel & Gerity in Phoenix.
The suit says that Yankee Candle downloaded a digital image of the painting from Getty Images which is also named as a defendant. Apparently, neither Yankee Candle nor Getty bothered to check whether they had the rights to use Butirskiy’s painting. The candle maker simply cropped the image and applied it to thousands of candles sold worldwide in its stores, by Bed Bath & Beyond, and by other retailers.
Butirskiy graduated from the Russian Academy of the Arts with highest honors. His landscape and cityscape paintings have appeared at more than 200 exhibitions, including a retrospective at Il Vittoriano in the Piazza Venezia in Rome. A single Butirskiy work can sell for $65,000 or more.
“It appears that Getty began selling “Autumn Leaves” on one of its stock image websites, ThinkStock.com, sometime before mid-July of this year,” said Rothman. “Yankee Candle downloaded the image from Getty and slapped it on candles in its fall 2013 collection. And since copyright law imposes liability regardless of intent, Getty’s failure to obtain permission to sell Butirskiy’s image subjects all infringers to liability,” Rothman said.
“When we discovered the candles in July of this year we were shocked that Alexei’s work was used without permission,” said Lisa Barnes of Thomas Charles Editions. Barnes, a knowledgeable fine art appraiser with over twenty-four years of experience, is particularly concerned what effect the infringement may have on the value of Butirskiy’s art.
“It’s tragic that Getty Images, which goes to such great lengths to protect its works from illegal copying, infringed on the work of one of our fine artists,” Barnes said.