“Artists stand no chance”: viral painter speaks out after takedowns from Hasbulla, Post Malone and Warner Bros

  • Artist Rory Paints on recent takedown from Russian star Hasbulla
  • Claims he “wasn’t surprised” by the legal action due to similar issues
  • Reveals fear that his artistic muse, footballer Erling Haaland, could also pursue claims in future

Popular Instagram artist Rory Paints, who often uses public and fictional figures in his artworks, has revealed to WTR that he has received takedown notices from Warner Bros, musician Post Malone and Russian social media personality Hasbulla. In an interview with WTR, he laments what he perceives as a David versus Goliath situation that can arise between artists and major brands, and discusses fears of a future legal battle with his artistic muse, footballer Erling Haaland.

Artist Rory Paints – who resides in Cardiff, Wales – went viral on Instagram this year as a result of his ‘100 days of painting Erling Haaland’ project, which involved painting Manchester City footballer Haaland once a day for 100 days. The paintings are often parodies of famous paintings (eg, those by Vincent van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer), movies (eg, Titanic and Barbie) and political images (eg, the Obama ‘Hope’ poster). The effort spurred media coverage from outlets including The Sun, The Independent and The Irish Times.

His account now has 71,400 followers. As it grew, Paints branched out to painting other public figures, including actors Brendan Fraser and Danny DeVito, YouTuber Mr Beast, and Russian media personality Habulla, who recently signed a deal with the UFC. The artist has also launched a Redbubble store to sell his paintings on items including postcards, T-shirts and pillows.

It is the Redbubble account that has caused some headaches for the painter over the past few months. This week alone, he received a takedown notice from Hasbulla's legal entity Hasbulla LLC for breaching Redbubble’s IP and Publicity Rights Policy in relation to three paintings (all of which have since been renamed not to mention the word ‘Hasbulla’). In a video published on Instagram, Paints described the takedown as a “small legal dispute with Hasbulla”, for which he has created a new painting (below) depicting an imaginary courtroom showdown between the two of them. (In the painting, Haaland acts as the artist’s legal representative, of course.)

Rory Paints artwork featuring imaginary courtroom battle


Hasbulla owns the registered EU trademark HASBULLA, which was filed in June 2022 and covers goods and services including paintings, posters and digital art (relating, it appears, to his NFT collection). He has also filed trademarks in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Talking to WTR, Paints admits he “wasn’t surprised” by the takedown notice. He has received similar notices in recent months, he reveals. “I tried to sell a print of Haaland as the Joker, but Warner Bros shut that down,” he says. “I also tried to sell prints of Haaland as Post Malone, but Post Malone shut that one down. On top of that, I've had issues with Getty Images in the past and know how predatory businesses can be with copyright infringement and trademarks.”

Paints' response to the takedowns so far has been to change the titles of the artworks, a move that does not impact him too much, he notes, because he “doesn't really profit from these sales anyway”.

Nevertheless, the experience has caused the artist to take a negative perspective of some forms of intellectual property and their potential impact on the art community. “When it comes to legal disputes, individuals and small artists stand no chance. I can barely afford rent, never mind legal fees,” he laments. “I don't like trademarks and copyright laws in general – it all feels very slimy. However, I understand why they exist, they want to protect their brand.”

At present, Paints has had no legal issue with his muse, Haaland. However, he admits that he is expecting problems in the future. “I have painted Haaland over 120 times and have sold prints without any issues so far. I even released a children's book, but for legal reasons, I preemptively named it Norwegian Man,” he says. “I also plan on releasing a book called 100 Paintings of Erling Haaland. Hopefully I won't have to rename it.”

It is worth noting that the footballer filed his first trademark (in his home country of Norway) earlier this year and an international trademark last week. After discovering these filings, Paints said that he will continue to conduct research and will “tread carefully”.

Asked about the difficulty that artists can face when they use public figures in their works, chartered trademark attorney and HGF partner Lee Curtis says that a parody defence can be difficult to fight in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

“There is a parody and pastiche defence under copyright law, explicitly designed to allow free expression in artistic works,” Curtis explains. “So, if a brand name or image was purely being used as a form of artistic impression, then that should be defendable. That doesn’t exist under trademark law in the European Union and the United Kingdom. So, there is sometimes a strain there and conflict between the two forms of IP protection, when artists use a name or image or other branded imagery in their artwork.”

In those cases, an artist “would need to argue that the use of a brand in a work of art was not used in the course of trade or more accurately did not impact the various functions of a trademark in the words of UK and EU case law”, Curtis adds.

The United States has traditionally been a better jurisdiction for arguing parody. However, that may have changed due to the recent Jack Daniel's v VIP Products case at the US Supreme Court. “That decision maybe moved US trademark law slightly closer to that in the United Kingdom and the European Union on this subject," Curtis says. "If a defendant is using a brand in a work as a source identifier, then the free expression defence is not so easy to argue.”

With that in mind, the key question will be whether a typical consumer “would see a brand name or an image in a work of art as making a connection to the brand owner from a trademark perspective”, Curtis says. Although, he adds: “If the brand or image is purely there as a form of artistic comment, particularly if incidental in the work, then it should not fall under the ambit of trademark law, and the parody and pastiche defence under copyright law could be exploited. However, this is increasingly becoming a fine line to tread for any artist, particularly with the increasing commercialisation of art.”

With his impressive artistic talent and growing ambition, Paints will be hoping he does not ultimately end up in legal hot water with Haaland. “I guess we'll see where this goes,” he concludes.

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