If you Google Frida Kahlo and click on the shopping page, you will find a countless amount of Frida merchandise. Just like any icon including Selena Quintanilla, Marilyn Monroe, and others, vendors worldwide sell items with their faces and names and Frida Kahlo is no different. However, the estate to these deceased stars still own the rights to their names and faces, so where do independent vendors stand? Typically, an estate has previously only sued major corporations who attempt to sell or feature a deceased celebrity if they have not acquired the proper contract. But now that’s all changed. Lawyers for the likes of Beyoncé and Selena Quintanilla have also sued independent artists who use images or names of celebrities. At least one artist is fighting back.
Nina Shope, an author, and artisan from Denver, Colorado, is suing the Frida Kahlo Corporation (FKC) because her Frida dolls were flagged and taken down due to the infringement of the Frida estate. But this lawsuit isn’t as black and white because two entities claim the rights to Frida Kahlo, which is the FKC and Cristina Kahlo — Frida’s niece.
“Hey everyone, so I have some huge news… I have just filed a lawsuit against the Frida Kahlo Corporation (FKC), which flagged some of my Frida dolls for deactivation on Etsy,” the artisan wrote on Facebook.”The FKC claims to hold a trademark registration on ‘Frida Kahlo’ for dolls, and it has targeted small artists repeatedly.
She went on to say, “I don’t believe that artists should be bullied or threatened into abandoning their art, silencing their voices, and stifling their creativity. That is the main reason why I am challenging the FKC’s alleged trademark registration, that has been used as a cudgel not only against me but against a number of other creators and artists.”
Her lawsuit against FKC states, “The name of a doll does not violate the Lanham Act [the federal statute for trademarks, service marks, and unfair competition] unless the name has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever, or, if it has some artistic relevance, unless the title explicitly misleads as to the source or the content of the work. Here, neither concern applies.”
The dolls themselves, which are still available on Etsy and retail for $68, are a semi-unique take on the Mexican artist. The main Frida giveaway is her signature unibrow, but there’s no way any estate can own the legal right to a unibrow.
Shope’s attorney, Rachael Lamkin, told ARTnews that she represents several independent vendors who are Mexican and says these items for sale are “homages to Frida Kahlo.”
“We believe the doll represents a historical figure — you have to be able to say who that historical figure is without violating trademark,” Lamkin said to ARTnews. “This is a brand new problem in the world of law and the world of art,” and adds “the only way to get it back up is to sue the rights owner.”