J.Lo’s Fiat Fiasco

By Alison Parker

Reviewed by Jennifer Williams

J.Lo’s new commercial for Fiat automobiles features her driving around the Bronx, her hometown, in a white Fiat 500. There has been a bit of controversy surrounding the commercial because it turns out that the Bronx scenes were shot using a body double and the scenes with J.Lo were shot in Los Angeles. This filming tactic seemed a bit ironic because the theme of the commercial is that the Bronx is her “world” and she lists all the reasons this place “inspires” her.

But that wasn’t the only controversy surrounding the video. Graffiti artist group Tats Cru sued Fiat for the unauthorized use of their “I [heart] Bronx” mural which appears in the video. Fiat quickly settled the dispute with the group for an undisclosed amount.

Tats Cru isn’t just any group of graffiti artists, they have done work for big name companies like Coca-Cola and M&Ms, lectured at MIT and had their work is displayed in the Smithsonian. And they have a history of cracking down on infringers. In 2007, the New York Times reported on an incident where an author, Peter Rothstein, photographed murals in NYC for use in his book “Tattooed Walls.” Unfortunately for Mr. Rothstein, one of Tats Cru’s murals was among the group of pieces photographed and featured in his book. Like Fiat, Mr. Rothstein settled with the group under confidential terms.

But back to J.Lo and Fiat. Although the mural is shown briefly at the beginning of the ad, it is arguable that Tats Cru’s mural is a central stage-setting component of the commercial. To me, as a student having lived in Manhattan for going on three years, it is clear that J.Lo is in New York City: she is seen crossing over a bridge with shots of the Manhattan skyline in the background. As J.Lo says “here…this is my world,” the viewer sees the “I [heart] Bronx” mural in the background in two separate frames as J.Lo cruises by. The focus on the mural coupled with her voiceover sends the message to New York and Non-New York viewers alike that she is in the Bronx; that the Bronx is her “world.” I would argue that without Tats Cru’s mural, the average, non-New Yorker would have no idea where in the city she was. The mural provides context to the piece and more of a meaning to her voiceover.

The fact that graffiti is at issue makes the situation an interesting debate–because graffiti is showcased in the public for anyone to see, and is sometimes illegally painted, it may seem as though it would be ineligible for copyright protection. But the Copyright Act makes no mention of where or by what means (legal or illegal) the original work is “fixed”.

And while there are certain defenses available to copyright infringement, like the Fair Use defense, it seems like Fiat did the right thing by settling the controversy. The Fair Use defense is available when the copyrighted work is used, without permission from the copyright owner, for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It seems like it would be a stretch for Fiat to try to claim that Fair Use applies to their situation–mainly because Tats Cru’s mural was used in a commercial and was in the background of the product being advertised. All in all, the outcome here was the best for both parties involved.

See the commercial here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deNRiBQiQ3Q







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