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Ai Weiwei sues Volkswagen over use of refugee lifejacket artwork in ad

Updated 12:32 PM ET, Wed May 22, 2019

(CNN) - Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is taking German automaker Volkswagen to court after he said his work appeared in an advert for the company without permission.

Ai Weiwei posted a selfie on Instagram Tuesday flipping the bird over a Volkswagen logo. "On the way to Copenhagen to attend the court hearing for our case against Volkswagen," read the caption.

The hearing relates to an episode involving the artwork "Soleil Levant" (2017), which was on display at the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, Denmark, from June to October 2017. It later featured as the backdrop for a Volkswagen Polo campaign in October that year, according to an Instagram post published by the artist in March.

Ai Weiwei wrote that his work was used and its image cropped without permission, and he was not credited as the artist. "I am suing Volkswagen in Denmark for violating my intellectual property and moral rights," reads the March post. "The infringing material was circulated to over 200,000 people, giving the false impression that I had authorized Volkswagen to use my artwork in its ad for the new Polo."

The hearing took place on Wednesday morning at Glostrup District Court in Copenhagen. A spokesman for Volkswagen Denmark told CNN that the company would not comment on ongoing legal proceedings. However, the spokesman said the company had admitted its mistake and had tried to reach a resolution with the artist for the past year.

"It was unfortunately not possible, that's why we have been to court today," said the spokesman in an email statement. "Now we have to wait 7-8 weeks for the court's conclusion on the matter."

"Soleil Levant" consists of 3,500 lifejackets used by refugees crossing to Lesbos, Greece, and was created to mark World Refugee Day.

Ai Weiwei claimed that he had tried to resolve the matter with Volkswagen without success, and criticized the company for what he called an "arrogant" attitude. "Volkswagen and other multinational corporations have tremendous bargaining power in intellectual property protection as well as environmental and human rights," he wrote. "They are not above the law."

Ai Weiwei is not the first celebrity artist to sue over the unauthorized use of images.

In December 2018, British artist Anish Kapoor reached an out-of-court settlement with the National Rifle Association (NRA) after the gun rights group used an image of Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" sculpture in a promotional video.

In 2017 the large silver sculpture, known as "The Bean" to locals in Chicago where it sits in a park in the city center, featured in an NRA video called "The Violence of Lies," which sparked a furious reaction from the artist.

Kapoor filed legal papers and the gun rights organization agreed to remove the image of the sculpture as part of the settlement, reported the UK's Press Association news agency at the time.

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