‘Digital Basel’ Website Accused of Copyright Infringement Returns Online

Despite scrubbing references to Art Basel, the re-launched Digital Basel site continues to face accusations of copyright infringement.

Man stands in art gallery looking at paintings hanging on white wall
Art Basel Hong Kong in May 2022. BERTHA WANG/AFP via Getty Images

Digital Basel, a website listing information on more than 4,500 artists and 200 galleries without their authorization, has returned online after shutting down last week.

The platform temporarily shut down after receiving a cease and desist letter from Art Basel, an international art fair that Digital Basel claimed to be affiliated with, as first reported by Artnews.

All references to Art Basel have since been scrubbed, although digitalbasel.io continues to reference hundreds of galleries, including Gagosian, Blum & Poe and Marian Goodman, on the website.

“While the site has removed unauthorized references to our brand after receiving our legal notice, it still currently displays galleries and artists without their permission,” said Noah Horowitz, CEO of Art Basel, in a statement. “We are concerned about any operations that infringe on intellectual property rights as they are detrimental to our global community of galleries and their artists, and constitute an attack on the principles of the market.”

According to a statement on Digital Basel’s website, the platform was in testing mode when Art Basel sent its letter, with an official launch expected in early April. “Owing to the use of Basel’s name, a clearly visible disclaimer was placed on all pages, emphasizing that we are NOT partnered or affiliated with Art Basel in any way,” said Digital Basel.

However, earlier versions of the website claimed that Digital Basel was Art Basel’s “digital twin” and described the platform as “Art Basel transitions into a digital dimension.”

In addition to removing references to Art Basel, the new website has also taken down its listing of two galleries that requested their information be removed, according to Digital Basel. “We seriously respect IP rights ownership, because it is a part of our mission to bring trust and structure to the digital market,” said the platform.

The platform continues to list thousands of original works

One of these galleries was David Zwirner, which also issued a cease and desist letter to the platform. “It is important to us to protect both the gallery’s reputation and the intellectual property rights of the artists we represent,” said the gallery in an emailed statement. “We want to make it clear that neither we nor any of our artists gave permission to digitalbasel.io to use our name or their artwork.”

The remaining galleries shown on Digital Basel, listings that the website said were automatically generated with open sources online, will be polled by the website to determine whether they would like to keep or delete their profiles, according to Digital Basel. However, galleries like London’s Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, which continues to be displayed on Digital Basel, said they haven’t been contacted by the platform.

Digital Basel displays more than 7,700 original works from various artists, with the option to request a quote for “the true and only digital twin of the famous art piece.”

“Upon form submission, we initiate a process where we contact the gallery representing the artist to inquire about availability and pricing,” said Digital Basel in an emailed statement, claiming the structure of each deal requires approval from the relevant artist and gallery.

“As a general matter, you cannot sell a copy (digital or otherwise) of a copyright-protected work without the copyright owner’s permission – that is a direct infringement of the owner’s copyright,” said Samantha Moore, director of legal affairs at the Artists Rights Society, a company that advises artists on intellectual rights, in an emailed statement.

The Artists Rights Society is currently formulating a response to Digital Basel on behalf of its members, said Moore. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time this issue has come up with NFT projects,” she said, adding that pop-up websites selling NFT copies of protected works involve “multiple intellectual property violations.”

Earlier versions of Digital Basel listed NFTs of digital versions of original works for direct sale, including digital versions of Georg Baselitz’s The Abgar Head for $90,500 and Katherine Bradford’s Blue Lap Sitter for $23,000.

However, the website claims it never actually intended to sell any works. “As a platform, we merely act as an intermediary,” said the company. “We are unsure how the notion that ‘we are selling something’ arose.”

Digital Basel, which contains no mention of who is behind the platform on its website, declined to share information on who is running the company due to the recent “witch-hunt” and negative media reactions to the website, stating that “we are hesitant to disclose this information in order to safeguard all parties involved.”

‘Digital Basel’ Website Accused of Copyright Infringement Returns Online