On October 10, 2012, Zheng Li, an artist based in Roswell, Georgia, sued 25 defendants, including J.C. Penney, Kohl's Department Stores, and Z Gallerie, accusing them of infringing his claimed copyright in the oil painting titled "Piano No. 9."
"Zheng Li's high quality original paintings are often sold to patrons and clients for five figure sums," states the complaint. Describing what he calls "a classic case of intellectual property theft," Mr. Li accuses all defendants of infringing his copyright by having made and sold artwork, such as posters, titled "Piano Coloratura," pictured below in juxtaposition to a representation of his work.
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Excerpt from Paragraph 3 of Complaint, identifying "Piano No. 9" (left) and "Piano Coloratura" (right).
The complaint describes several purported similarities between the accused work and Mr. Li's oil painting, "including but not limited to, its combination of realism and abstractionism, classical inspiration and modern idea, and multi-color conflict of bold green and red against a contrasting black and green background."
Mr. Li, according to the complaint, created "Piano No. 9" in 2004 as one of 17 piano-themed original oil paintings, and registered his copyright in that work on August 31, 2012 as U.S. Copyright Registration No. VA-1-827-430. The complaint identifies a 2005 publication called "Zheng Li: The Paintings," written in both English and Chinese, depicting "Piano No. 9" on its cover.
In addition to copyright infringement claims asserted against all defendants, the complaint separately recites a declaratory judgment action solely against defendant Somerset Studios, Inc. ("Somerset"). According to the complaint, Somerset obtained its own copyright registration for "Piano Coloratura," reciting a creation year of 2008. The declaratory judgment count characterizes that registration as "fraud on the U.S. Copyright Office" and on that basis, seeks cancellation of Somerset's registration.
The case is Zheng Li v. The Affordable Art Company, et al., No. 1:12-cv-3523-RLV, filed 10/10/12 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert L. Vining, Jr.