‘Digital Basel’ Allegedly Violated Intellectual Property of Thousands of Artists

The art fair says an online NFT platform claiming to be associated with Art Basel has infringed on its copyright.

Top of black building shows Art Basel written out in white letters, clouds and blue sky shown above building
The art fair says it has no affiliation with Digital Basel. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Digital Basel, an online platform which claimed to be associated with Art Basel and offered NFTs of digital copies of thousands of artists’ work seemingly without their authority, shut down after it was sent a cease-and-desist letter by the art fair and several of its gallery exhibitors, including the David Zwirner Gallery.

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The platform marketed itself as the “digital twin” of Art Basel, the international event staged annually in Basel, Miami Beach, Hong Kong and Paris, as first reported by Artnews. Noah Horowitz, who previously directed the fair’s Americas departments, has been Art Basel’s CEO since November.

“This platform constitutes a major violation of Art Basel’s, galleries’ and artists’ copyright and poses a significant risk to unsuspecting buyers,” said Horowitz in a statement. “Copyright infringement is a serious problem which not only threatens the livelihood of artists but undermines the art ecosystem at large.”

Digital Basel’s website, which appears to have been live for less than a week and is offline as of today (March 29), described itself as a “digital dimension” of Art Basel, “combining technology, curatorship, deal verification, and introducing a new class of art assets.”

The platform featured hundreds of galleries exhibited by Art Basel on its website and offered non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or digital versions of more than 7,000 original artwork for sale.

“This platform is in no way connected to or endorsed by Art Basel, and this is a clear case of brand infringement that we are treating as a matter of the utmost priority,” said Art Basel in an emailed statement, adding that it immediately notified its legal counsel upon learning of the site and subsequently issued a cease-and-desist letter.

The NFTs listed by Digital Basel included a reproduction of Georg Baselitz’s The Abgar Head, which the platform listed for $90,500. Meanwhile, Baselitz’s original painting was sold by Christie’s in 2015 for £242,500 ($289,000).

An increasing number of NFT copyright cases

Art Basel’s cease-and-desist letter follows a slew of trademark and copyright issues concerning NFT companies. Earlier this year, Hermes won a trademark infringement case against the artist behind an NFT collection depicting digital variations of the company’s Birkin handbags. And Yuga Labs, the parent company of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection, is currently suing an artist who created his own NFTs based on the Bored Apes.

The now-shuttered digitalbasel.io platform, which offered visitors the opportunity to “explore the Art Basel’s digital art,” additionally listed artists and work from hundreds of galleries that have exhibited at either Art Basel or Liste, a Swiss art fair. Liste did not respond to requests for comment.

Galleries that aren’t connected with either art fair were also offered the opportunity to showcase their work on Digital Basel for $199 a year.

“I can confirm we had no association with that platform,” said James Holland-Hibbert, an art dealer at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, a London gallery that has exhibited at Art Basel since 2020 and was listed on Digital Basel’s website.

Art Basel informed its exhibiting galleries of Digital Basel in a letter sent yesterday (March 28) warning that a fraudulent website was engaging in copyright and trademark infringement.

“Clearly, this website also constitutes a serious violation of galleries’ and artists’ copyright and other intellectual property rights,” read the letter. “If your gallery or artists are listed on this website without your express consent, you may wish to seek independent legal advice.”

Digital Basel could not be reached for comment.

‘Digital Basel’ Allegedly Violated Intellectual Property of Thousands of Artists