Art Basel, the world’s top art fair, told participants from prior editions in an email that it had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Digital Basel, an online platform that it accused of copyright infringement.
In the letter sent Tuesday that was obtained by ARTnews, Art Basel said that Digital Basel “bills itself as the digital extension of Art Basel, features numerous Art Basel exhibitors alongside their artists and allegedly offers digital reproductions or NFTs of original artworks. We would like to clarify that this platform is in no way connected to or endorsed by Art Basel, and that this is a clear case of brand infringement.”
According to Digital Basel’s website, it is “a new platform for curated digital art distribution with the opportunity to showcase artists and their work in a digital dimension.”
On the website, Digital Basel notes that galleries that have shown at Art Basel and Liste, a satellite fair that also takes place in Basel, Switzerland, are listed. Prospective galleries are able to pay $199 to have their art posted to the site, per that description.
A Liste spokesperson said in a statement, “Liste is in no way affiliated with this website that fraudulently claims to represent us. On behalf of our galleries and their artists, we are vigorously pursuing action against those that may be infringing upon artists’ and galleries’ copyright.”
Digital Basel did not immediately respond to a request submitted through the contact form on its website.
In copy on the website, Digital Basel implied a direct connection with Art Basel, writing, “Art Basel goes digital. The bigest [sic] art fair now has a digital twin – Digital Basel.” Such misspellings and grammatical mistakes are rife on the Digital Basel website, which also claims to “Extend Basel beyond Art Basel [by] combining technology, curatorship, deal verification, and introsucing [sic] new class of art assets.”
Art Basel has disputed any relationship with Digital Basel, saying the two have no connection. Buried in Digital Basel’s end-user agreement, which is in slightly greyed-out type, at the bottom of the website is admission of that fact.
“Digital Basel is not affiliated with Art Basel in any form or partnership. All galleries, artworks and prices presented on the website are for advisory purposes only,” it reads, despite the fact their affiliation with the art fair is declared throughout the website’s copy. The user agreement, which Digital Basel says you are legally bound to by using their platform, is not liable for any direct, indirect, or consequential damages, claims, losse or liabilities, “in connection with the use or inability to use the Digital Basel platform.”
Among the galleries displayed on Digital Basel are Blum & Poe, David Zwirner Gallery, and others. Accessing the pages takes viewers to a site where they can purchase NFTs of artworks, even if the physical pieces upon which the NFTs are based are themselves not for sale. On Zwirner’s Digital Basel page, for example, it is possible to buy an NFT of Kerry James Marshall’s When Frustration Threatens Desire (1990) for 4,989 ETH, or $8,720. The actual work is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from April Sheldon and John Casado, and nowhere on David Zwirner’s website is there a listing for a NFT of this painting.
Jasmin Tsou, a founder of New York’s JTT, said that Digital Basel’s website even contained errors within the description of her gallery, falsely stating, for example, that she once worked at Greene Naftali. Digital Basel also gave “inaccurate” pricing for works being sold by her gallery.
In an email, Tsou wrote, “Is it a massive prank? A massive advertisement to poll how many people are interested in certain images as NFT based on who clicks what? And if it is that, who really cares? Will anyone buy from this site? Seems highly unlikely. So are they gathering data for some other type of scam that isn’t on the surface?”
Sarah Conley Odenkirk, co-head of the Art Law practice group and a partner at the lawfirm Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard, told ARTnews, “As legitimate businesses see the value in expanding their platforms into the digital space to develop new users (and in this case collectors or galleries) and to offer new access to events, services, and products we will definitely see increased efforts by scammers attempting to align themselves with luxury and high end trademarks.”
According to Art Basel, Digital Basel’s website was briefly taken down and was made live again. At the time of publication, Digital Basel’s website was still live.
“Art Basel condemns copyright infringement in unequivocal terms, as it threatens the livelihood of artists and undermines the art ecosystem at large,” an Art Basel spokesperson said in a statement.