Copyright Authorship in the Context of the Conceptual Artist’s Studio

Lily Henderson

Earlier this summer a French court dismissed a lawsuit against Maurizio Cattelan, an elusive and sometimes controversial Italian artist known for his works such as La Nona Ora and Comedian.[1] Daniel Druet, Cattelan’s studio assistant tasked with creating the wax portions of the sculptures at issue, sued Perrotin Gallery, Turenne Editions, and Monnaie de Paris for copyright infringement. The assistant alleged that he was the exclusive author of the works, and thus, he deserved accreditation and additional compensation. While Cattelan may have given the initial instructions for the composition, Druet claimed he brought the works to life.[3] However, the court held that Druet did not overcome the strong presumption under French intellectual property code L113-1 that the author is the person whose name the work is exclusively disclosed under, in this case, Cattelan alone.[4] The court also noted the procedural oddity of the case—Druet had not sued Cattelan himself; instead, the artist was impleaded.[5]

It is important to note that Druet confoundingly did not advance the alternative claim that he was a co-author.[6] While the decision does not discredit this potential legal avenue, perhaps Druet thought a claim to exclusive authorship asserted a stronger public statement against these big art world players, Perrotin and Monnaie de Paris.[7]

While Druet certainly contributed to Cattelan’s sculptures, does the outcome of this case properly place the authorship in Cattelan’s hands or do studio assistants’ contributions merit more recognition and legal control?

This decision falls in line with similar suits brought by studio assistants against popular contemporary artists.[8] The concept of an artist’s workshop, rising in popularity during the Renaissance, is not novel, yet the advent of conceptual art and importance of name visibility in the digital age complicates this historical dynamic between head artist and assistant.[9] While copyright in most jurisdictions, including the United States, protects expression and not ideas, the concept of authorship seems to be grounded in mental conception or ideation, over the material outcome.[10] Underlying this tension seems to be, on the one hand, the desire to prevent a monopoly over ideas themselves, and, on the other, the fear that copyright becomes burdened with subjective determinations of authorship based on aesthetic valuations. Legal systems like the U.S. and France seem to care more about creative ideation than investment or rewarding labor when assigning authorship.[11] Therefore, this system seems to bode well for contemporary artists, since conceptual art champions the idea rather than the tangible art object.[12] Whether fair or not, as exemplified in Druet’s lawsuit, the lead artist or director of the work’s creation holds the cards while those who put time and labor into the ultimate creation may not have much of a say over intellectual property rights as the law stands in France.


[1] See Maurizio Cattelan Biography, Perrotin, [] [] (last visited Sept. 30, 2022).

[2] Cour de cassation [Cass.] [Supreme Court for Judicial Matters], 3e civ., July 8, 2022, Bull. Civ. III at 10, 18/05382 (Fr.).

[3] Id. at 9.

[4] Id. at 10.

[5] Id. at 10, 11.

[6] Id. at 10.

[7] Druet felt not only a lack of formal accreditation but a purposeful exclusion from the public reception of the works by Perrotin and Monnaie de Paris. See Devorah Lauter, Who Gets Credit for Conceptual Art? Inside the Paris Courtroom Where a Sculptor Is Fighting Maurizio Cattelan’s Gallery for Recognition, Artnet (May 16, 2022), [] [] (“Cattelan was their winning horse. I [Druet] was just the tool. When they start to forget you exist, it becomes a problem.”).

[8] See Moi v. Chihuly Studio Inc., 846 F.App’x 497 (9th Cir. 2021) (dismissing claim of joint authorship brought by a studio assistant against famous glass artist, Dale Chihuly); see also Marta Zaballos, Fumiko Negishi and Antonio De Felipe, Co-Authors of 221 Art Works, Cautrecasas (June 15, 2021) [] [] (plaintiff claiming co-authorship of 221 paintings that were publicly disclosed under defendant’s, a well-known pop artist, name as the sole author).

[9] See Katarina Feder, Is a Studio Assistant Entitled to Get Some Kind of Credit for Their Boss’s Art? + Other Artists’ Rights Questions, Answered, Artnet (May 31, 2022), [] [] (recognizing a trend across Museums to list the author of certain works as “workshop of” or “school of”). Many contemporary artists including Andy Warhol, who called his studio the “Factory,” employ assistants, often multiple, to create their works. See Gillian Sagansky, George Condo Recalls His First (and Last) Real Job, W Magazine (Feb. 27, 2016),'s%20Factory,pressure%20and%20execute%20it%20perfectly [] ['s%20Factory,pressure%20and%20execute%20it%20perfectly] (Condo discussing his experience working at Warhol’s Factory).

[10] See Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 350 (1991) (“This Court has long recognized that the fact/expression dichotomy limits severely the scope of protection in fact-based work.”). See also Jane C. Ginsburg, The Concept of Authorship in Comparative Copyright Law, 52 DePaul L. Rev. 1063, 1072, 1074 (2003) (deriving six principles of copyright authorship, Ginsburg stipulates that “authorship places mind over muscle” and “authorship vaunts mind over machine”).

[11] Ginsburg, supra note 10 at 1078 (noting how US copyright rejects the “sweat of the brow” standard in determining authorship).

[12] Feder, supra note 9 (“As with much contemporary art, it isn’t so much the hands-on making as the ideating that counts.”).