One of street art’s greatest mysteries — you know, besides Banksy’s identity — is whether Exit Through the Gift Shop was a “real” documentary or a prank. Now, unless Banksy and his cohorts are ridiculously committed to performance art (which we suppose is still a remote possibility), it seems we have our answer. The Guardian reports that photographer Glen Friedman just won a lawsuit against Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash, the French-born filmmaker-turned-street artist profiled in the film for using his image of Run-DMC in a piece. If Mr. Brainwash were merely a character created by Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and friends, it’s hard to imagine Guetta as a legitimate target for the suit.
Although Guetta is obviously a joke in the street-art community, his legal troubles may have a serious impact on it: Judge Dean Pregerson’s ruling states that “[t]o permit one artist the right to use without consequence the original creative and copyrighted work of another artist simply because that artist wished to create an alternative work would eviscerate any protection by the copyright act.” Considering street artists’ fondness for messing with everything from iconic photos to corporate logos, this precedent is worrisome indeed.