In 2015, three years after the art collective Meow Wolf initially approached her, artist Lauren Adele Oliver agreed to add her Space Owl to their exhibit House of Eternal Return. According to Oliver, they sold her on the idea by offering her both membership in the group as well as an “artist revenue share”.
Over the next few years, the exhibit itself became incredibly successful, earning millions for the collective. It was even named in Artnet’s story “The 100 Defining Works of the Decade,” with Meow Wolf coming in at number 25.
Recently, however, Oliver decided to sue the collective for Visual Artist Rights Act violations and copyright infringement. Why?
According to her lawsuit, after the exhibit earned millions, “the language Meow Wolf used to describe itself and its relationship with member artists began to shift. At some point the ‘Artist Revenue Share’ began to be called a ‘Bonus Program’ amounting to Kadlubek making personal, arbitrary decisions about who got what.”
Eventually, Meow Wolf gave Oliver two options:
- Sell Space Owl to them at what she considered a lowball price, or
- Remove Space Owl from the exhibition and receive no more compensation.
At that point, she had only earned about $2,000 in revenue sharing from including Space Owl in the exhibition. Attorney Jesse A. Boyd says Oliver just wants fair compensation and is seeking “more than a million dollars”.
Seems pretty cut and dried, right? Meow Wolf agreed to share revenue with Oliver but then only paid her a paltry sum compared to what they made — particularly in relation to how prominently Space Owl was featured.
Unfortunately, the issue is not quite so simple. Apparently, the deal Oliver says she made with Meow Wolf was never put into writing. Despite her attempts to do this, they kept giving her “the runaround” before giving her those two options mentioned above. Without a formal, legally-binding deal to use as evidence, it is likely going to be difficult for Oliver to win her case.
The takeaway? An agreement is not real and binding until it is put down on paper and passes legal muster. Do not offer your intellectual property — or your own labor — until a deal is truly official.
If you need protecting your intellectual property, reach out to Crystal Broughan and the Marks Gray intellectual property team.