As an artist, David Bowie fully understood the power of his image. Throughout his career, he developed and transformed, not just musically, but also visually, before our eyes – and from his period as Ziggy Stardust through to the Thin White Duke, he was happy to be defined as much by how he looked as how he sounded. Yet much of the power of that visual identity was down to its uniqueness, and to an understanding that it was an image that was owned by him, and no one else. David Bowie was a powerful brand – and a key part of that was protecting and closely controlling the images associated with that brand.
A unique and iconic image
So in the light of that it’s very likely that he would have approved of a legal decision that has recently been made in favour of another artist – as part of a copyright dispute between the estate of late photographer Brian Duffy and Hard Rock Café.
Duffy was responsible for an iconic image of David Bowie that was used on the cover of the Aladdin Sane album in 1973. The copyright issue with the Hard Rock Café came up when the photographer’s estate discovered that the chain were using the photograph in both the front entrance and guest rooms of its hotel in Palm Springs, California.
An agreed settlement
The dispute between the two parties has now ended, after Duffy’s estate asked that the Hard Rock Café either pay any profit or gain they may have received as a result of the copyright infringement, or pay statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.
Interestingly it now appears that the case – which was originally filed at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in September – has been settled without either party having to pay out. However the judge has said that it can be re-opened within 30 days if there is any need to enforce any part of the settlement.
It’s also not the first time that Hard Rock Café has run foul of intellectual property disputes – back in October, they were on the receiving end of a complaint from Red Lion Hotels, who complained that Hard Rock Café’s Reverb hotel was too close to Red Lion’s Hotel RL brand.
This latest settlement however shows that Bowie’s image – even after his death – is as powerfully protected as it was during his lifetime. And with an artist as unique and distinctive as Bowie, for whom image was everything, that’s as it should be.