Books & Art

Filipino Photographer’s Work was 'Stolen' by Spanish Artist

Ayan Villafuerte shot Happiness in 2012. In 2019, he learned that another artist from the other side of the world has been claiming it is their own work.
IMAGE Ayan Villafuerte
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Ayan Villafuerte started photography in 2012. It was the year when he captured one of his best photographs—a group of laughing boys dirtied with mud. Villafuerte’s photograph is part of a body of work titled Happiness, which captures the joy of children despite the simplicity of their lives.

In January 2019, he learned that, on the other side of the world, two artists have been using his photograph and claiming it is their own. Spanish tattoo artist and muralist Javier Robledo, more commonly known as Xav had used Villafuerte’s Happiness without his permission to create a gigantic mural on a building in Kiev, Ukraine. The mural was a project organized in 2017 by Art United Us. The mural was featured in a story by Huffpost in 2017. 

“I only learned about the photo when a follower on Instagram tagged me in a photo of the mural in January,” said Villafuerte. Villafuerte asked whether the image was printed on the side of the building or drawn there by an artist.

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A follower alerted Villafuerte to a possible violation of his intellectual property rights.

Villafuerte said his camp had tried to contact Robledo but received no reply. The camp also reached out to Art United Us, but its curator, Ukrainian Geo Leros, dismissed the claim, saying, “We did not give permission."

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According to Iryna Kanischeva, former co-founder of Art United Us, it is the responsibility of artists to have permission for images or photographs that will be used for their work. 

Villafuerte admitted that at one point he shared the photo on an online licensing platform, but eventually took it down. Recently, he said two tattoo artists asked permission from Villafuerte to use his photograph as art, and he agreed.

Artists’ Rights

The Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines protects artists from being victims of plagiarism. Artists—painters, photographers, sculptors, filmmakers, writers—have the right to prevent anyone from reproducing, transforming, or distributing their work. In the case of Villafuerte, he has the right to prevent anyone from transforming his photographs into other types of work, such as murals, paintings, sketches, prints, etc. without his permission. Similar rights are accorded writers, graphic artists, and illustrators.

A similar issue was experienced by Filipino designer Feanne in 2018, who accused British Brand Rixo of stealing her design.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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