Green Day Cleared in Concert Artwork Lawsuit - Rolling Stone
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Green Day Cleared in Lawsuit Over Concert Artwork

Courts rule band didn’t violate rights borrowing an image on 2009 tour

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs in Rome.Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs in Rome.

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs in Rome.

Ernesto Ruscio/Redferns via Getty Images

Green Day have been cleared in a lawsuit over their use of an artist’s image in a concert backdrop. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled in favor of the rockers today in a “close and difficult case,” saying they didn’t violate illustrator Dereck Seltzer’s rights by using his work, Reuters reports.

Seltzer created “Scream Icon,” a twisted, tortured image of a face in 2003; the image has appeared on posters and been put on walls as street art. Green Day used a version of the image with a red cross over it as part of a live video backdrop for “East Jesus Nowhere” during a 2009 tour. That interpretation was based on a photo of a beat-up copy of “Scream Icon” on a brick wall on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard.

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Seltzer rejected a proposed settlement, which included concert tickets, and filed suit. But in 2011, his claims of copyright infringement and violations of a federal trademark law were shut down by a federal district judge in Los Angeles. The 9th circuit agreed with the previous decision, ruling Green Day’s use of Seltzer’s work was “transformative and not overly commercial.”

“With the spray-painted cross, in the context of a song about the hypocrisy of religion, surrounded by religious iconography, [the] video backdrop using Scream Icon conveys new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings that are plainly distinct from those of the original piece,” wrote Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain. O’Scannlain also said Seltzer’s testimony that Green Day’s images didn’t affect the value of his work and the fact that the band didn’t use the images in merchandise or promo materials helped boost Green Day’s side of the case.

The rockers didn’t walk away with everything in their favor, though: The courts overturned a $201,000 award of attorney’s fees, ruling that Seltzer’s lawsuit was not “objectively unreasonable.”

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