By Kelcee Griffis
The estate of a late Indian artist has dropped counterclaims seeking copyright infringement damages from a New York City gallery that is digitizing the artist’s largest work into a series of non-fungible tokens.
Maqbool Fida Husain’s estate agreed Tuesday to stop alleging that TamarindArt LLC never acquired the copyright to Husain’s “Lightning”—a 12-panel mural that depicts white horses galloping across a Cubist landscape—and can’t legally sell NFTs inspired by the paintings.
Husain created the work in 1975 as a backdrop for a speech by India’s then-prime minister. In 2002, Tamarind acquired the painting for $400,000, and the transaction ultimately included an “exclusive, royalty free, worldwide license to display, market, reproduce and resell” the work, according to the underlying lawsuit filed by Tamarind.
Before Husain’s death in 2011, the suit claims, the artist never objected to Tamarind owner Kent Charugundla’s various uses and displays of the mural, including its publication in several books.
Husain’s estate sent Charugundla a cease and desist letter in January, after Tamarind started turning the art into NFTs. According to the suit, the project will be a “‘drop’ of an undetermined number of NFTs with 62 unique traits. Each NFT will represent one of the Artwork’s 12 panels with its own trait.”
The estate claimed that the NFT project would run afoul of the Copyright Act, and demanded that Tamarind immediately halt the project. The letter prompted Tamarind to sue the estate in January, seeking a declaration of noninfringement.
The estate’s now-mooted counterclaims said that the sale and rights transfer agreements were signed and partially negotiated in India, so Indian copyright law should govern the sale. That would mean that Husain “never conveyed any copyrights related to the modes or mediums Tamarind is seeking to exploit through the NFT Project,” according to the suit.
The underlying lawsuit seeking to clear the rights for the NFT project will now proceed without the counterclaims.
Counsel for Tamarind and Husain’s estate didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Offit Kurman PA represents TamarindArt. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP represents Husain’s estate.
The case is TamarindArt, LLC v. Husain et al, S.D.N.Y., No. 22-cv-00595, claims dismissed 6/28/22.
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By Kelcee Griffis