On April 21, 2021, CEE Legal Matters reported that the RKKW law firm had helped the Historical Museum of Sanok, in Poland, respond to an offer to sell it a counterfeit version of a painting by Zdzislaw Beksinski by an American auction website. CEE In-House Matters spoke with Jaroslaw Serafin, Director at the Historical Museum of Sanok, to learn more about the matter.
CEEIHM: Let’s start by telling our readers a bit about the Historical Museum of Sanok.
Jaroslaw: The Historical Museum in Sanok is one of the most important tourist and cultural attractions of the Podkarpackie voivodeship and south-eastern Poland. It gathers, among others, the most valuable collection of Carpathian icons in this part of Europe, important collections of paintings from the Ecole de Paris circle, and – most of all – thousands of Zdzislaw Beksinski’s works, the remarkable contemporary Polish artist, presented in the gallery named after him. The museum annually attracts tens of thousands of tourists from Poland and the world over and is the biggest showpiece of Sanok.
CEEIHM: The museum recently filed for copyright infringement against an American auction website. What is the background of this case?
Jaroslaw: Indeed, the museum has taken bold steps in this regard. I should start with the fact that we are probably the only museum in Poland to hold the copyright to the work of an outstanding contemporary artist. Apart from numerous privileges, this imposes on us the obligation of careful protection of these rights and market control. In view of the increasingly frequent cases of copyright infringement, we have decided to declare war on piracy. We want to give a clear signal that copyright infringements of Beksinski's works will be fought firmly and without mercy. In this way we secure our own interests and, at the same time, we do our best to fulfill the artist's last will from 2001.
CEEIHM: What are the museum’s next steps in terms of protecting its copyright on Beksinski’s work?
Jaroslaw: By fighting against illegal traders, we’d like to reach a situation in which the European and American markets will be cleared of the illegal commercial activity that violates the museum's copyright on Beksinski. This has two aims: firstly, we’d like to eliminate the grey market which depletes the museum's income. Secondly – perhaps more importantly – in this way we will ensure that Beksinski will be promoted at an appropriate level. The arbitrary sale of socks, masks, and even nappies with Beksinski's paintings on them, all this junk activity, will be eliminated. We care a lot about this matter because, in his will, the artist – bequeathing us a huge legacy – expressed his trust in the best promotion of his work. This is an important commitment that we just have to fulfill.
CEEIHM: What were some of the legal complexities of this case, bearing in mind its international nature?
Jaroslaw: Let me start by saying that certain countries do not offer the slightest opportunity for effective intervention. We are really happy about the popularity of Beksinski in Russia, but when we see tarot cards with the master's paintings being sold there, for example, we feel powerless. Fortunately, the regions where legal action has been taken are covered by international copyright law. The greatest difficulty lies in identifying the actual infringers, as they usually operate on hosting sites. Another (non-legal) problem concerns the issue of removing counterfeits from an auction. In this case, especially with regard to drawings or graphics, the analysis is a difficult and very delicate process. Fortunately, the museum has extensive experience and the support of the best expert on Beksinski's creation, the outstanding art historian Wieslaw Banach.
CEEIHM: What made you choose RKKW as your advisor?
Jaroslaw: It would be easy to say that the crucial factor was the reputation and effectiveness of the law firm. This is beyond dispute and, in itself, the best recommendation. But the personal factor was equally important to us. The attorney Radoslaw Kwasnicki is deeply involved in the promotion of art. He collects art and treasures Beksinski’s painting in a special way. This fact created hopes for a deeper understanding and special personal involvement in legal matters. We were not disappointed in these estimations, as our cooperation went beyond the legal framework and will result in an excellent exhibition of Beksinski's paintings, planned for this summer in Warsaw. Such a partnership is a double pleasure.
Originally reported by CEE In-House Matters.