Banksy might be forced to give up his anonymity

The English graffiti artist, who has never been unmasked, may have to reveal his identity to be able to trademark some of his best known pieces.

by Kumba Kpakima
23 June 2021, 10:41am

Image from Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

He’s known for his secretive, anonymous persona as much as his stencil artworks, but Banksy may be forced to reveal his identity after losing trademark rights to two more of his artworks. The artist has currently lost his trademark for Laugh Now, Ape and The Flower Bomber paintings.

We all love a bit of mystery, but the secrecy centred around Banksy’s identity may cost him ownership of his work. A recent ruling by the European Union Intellectual Property Office has stripped Banksy of his trademark rights to two more of his art pieces, with his hidden identity being labelled as a huge factor in his loss of copyright.

The EU panel found that his anonymity “hinders him from being able to protect his art under copyright laws without identifying himself”. Two separate judgements made by the EU panel revealed that the artist was also acting in “bad faith” as he had “departed from accepted principles of ethical behaviour or honest commercial and business practices”.

Banksy’s anonymity has been a fundamental part of his success as a street artist since the 1990s, and has earned him a loyal cult following over the years. The graffiti artist who is well-known for his political artworks, has been able to provide commentary and insight up to this point through his work alone, creating some of the British art world’s best known modern works. Notably, he designed Stormzy’s stab proof vest for the rapper’s Glastonbury Pyramid Stage headline performance in 2019, and a few years ago he replaced the portrait of the Queen with a picture of Princess Diana on fake £10 notes, at the same time changing the phrase ‘Bank of England’ to ‘Banksy of England’.

In his 2006 book Wall and Piece, the artist said that copyright claims are “for losers” and encouraged people to “copy, borrow, steal and amend” his work.

But now having lost rights to a total of four artworks including the iconic Girl with Umbrella and Radar Rat, it will be interesting to see whether Banksy finally unravels his identity.