Beach J has ruled that Maurice Blackburn did not breach any of State Street Global’s rights in the Fearless Girl statue by arranging for a replica to be displayed at the launch of a campaign to address the gender pay gap.
In 2016, State Street had commissioned Kristen Visbal to create a life-size bronze statue which became known as “Fearless Girl” in connection with a campaign to promote State Street’s Gender Diversity Index exchange traded fund, known as the “SHE fund”.
The completed statue was installed and unveiled in Bowling Green Park on Wall Street, famously appearing to confront the Charging Bull statue. This had been a wildly successful campaign with, amongst other things, over 4.6 billion Twitter impressions (?) and a “mere” 745 million Instagram impressions (?) in the first 12 weeks!
In 2019, Maurice Blackburn and a number of corporate and super fund backers negotiated an agreement with Ms Visbal for a fee of USD250,000 permitting them to display a Fearless Girl replica in Federation Square Melbourne in connection with a campaign for Equal Pay Day.
After Maurice Blackburn sent out invitations to the unveiling of the Fearless Girl replica in Federation Square, State Street sued Maurice Blackburn and some of its co-funders for pretty much everything they could think of:
- interference with contractual relations;
- false, misleading or deceptive conduct in trade and commerce Contrary to the Australian Consumer Law and passing off;
- trade mark infringement; and
- copyright infringement.
All the claims failed.
Beach J’s reasons for judgment run for some 1191 paragraphs over 274 pages. So, more considered analysis will have to wait a later day (or days).
The central issue seems to have been the very specific nature of State Street’s rights to control further reproductions of the work and the careful way Maurice Blackburn had used Fearless Girl.
The terms State Street and the artist had negotiated included a clause granting State Street the exclusive rights:
to display and distribute two-dimensional copies, and three-dimensional Artist-sanctioned copies, of the Artwork to promote (i) gender diversity issues in corporate governance and in the financial services sector, and (ii) SSGA and the products and services it offers. …. (emphasis supplied)
and Ms Visbal also agreed that no other party could be authorized to use “the Artwork” as a logo or brand ….
Beach J held that the way Maurice Blackburn had used Fearless Girl in connection with the Equal Pay Day campaign did not fall within the scope of State Street’s exclusive rights. It also was not use as a logo or brand. Michaela Whitbourn has a nice summary.
However, it looks like there will need to be a further hearing to determine whether, and if so, how Maurice Blackburn may use and display its Fearless Girl replica in the future.
State Street Global Advisors Trust Company v Maurice Blackburn Pty Ltd (No 2)  FCA 137
- Those of you out there with long(-ish) memories, might recall that that juxtaposition caused its own ‘moral rights’ controversy. Fearless Girl was later moved in April 2018 to its current position in front of the New York Stock Exchange. ?
- Fed Square, of course, is not without its own controversies! ?