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by Adam Bobker

Dear Lola,

Last summer I had a major exhibition and it was my best work yet. The night before the review was published I could hardly sleep a wink. My heart leapt when I heard the morning paper hit the front door. Imagine my shock when I read the royal hatchet job that my art school rival Zoe Fishbinder had done on my show. She panned it completely! My dealers in New York and Wichita have since dropped me and sales from the show have been dismal. This was not criticism. It was revenge. How do I prove it? Can I sue?

Signed, Unfairly Maligned (Toronto)

    Dear UM,

    If Zoe has maliciously written lies about you in order to sink your career, you may be able to sue Zoe and the publisher of the newspaper for libel. You will first have to give notice in writing of your intentions within six weeks of the day the bombshell was dropped. After they receive the notice, Zoe and her publisher may decide to print an apology. If an apology doesn't cut it and the case goes ahead, Zoe and her publisher will likely advance the defence of fair comment. The defence of fair comment protects expressions of opinion made in good faith on facts that are truthful and which concern matters of public interest, such as critiques of art works. In order to win in the face of this defence you will need to prove Zoe had actual malice toward you. You need evidence. So, dig up some dirt from your art school days that proves your long burning mutual hatred. A damning artifact may help show Zoe to be the liar you say she is. Consider though, UM, libel is a notoriously complex and expensive area of the law. It may take you years to get to trial.

Dear Lola,

Last year I sold a painting for $15,000 to an art collector. Yowza! A few months later, he invites me over to his house to see it. So I get there, dressed in my best jeans, and find he's hung it in his kid's bedroom. There are fingerprints and crayon marks all over it! Meanwhile, he's telling me how much he wants to buy more of my work. This is my first major collector and I don't want to fuck things up. What the hell should I do? Can I sue?

Signed, Unfairly Mutilated (Don Mills)

    Dear UM,

    Yes, you've got rights. Even after selling a painting, unless you have expressly waived them, you have moral rights which last until 50 years after your death. Moral rights are the rights of an artist to the integrity of their work. You have this right because, as an artist, your reputation is tied up with your art. Even after you sold the painting, when the art collector's brat tampered with it he tampered with your reputation. A Judge might give you some damages, or order the collector to have the painting cleaned. On the other hand, a polite letter might have the desired effect and be less likely to screw up your next sale. Let him know how you feel, a little well aimed guilt can go a long way.

Dear L,

I'm a news reporter for a national television station. About a month ago, I covered a story on an artist who was commissioned to create a monument to those who died of AIDS. Thousands attended the unveiling. A few days before, I met the artist for a TV interview, just as she was finishing up the piece. Over her shoulder, I noticed a dedication to "Fluffy" discretely etched into the bronze. I asked her about it and was shocked when she told me Fluffy was her dead cat. I mean this is a monument dedicated to victims of AIDS we're talking about. So I told her she better remove Fluffy's dedication or I would report it on the six o'clock news. She said she would but I didn't follow up and I didn't report it. Considering that this monument was a commission and honouring the dead, was her dead cat dedication an ethical breach, or am I not being transgressive enough in my art thinking?

Signed, I'm Right (Ottawa)

    Dear I'm Right,

    That is deep. I like it. Right on. My son, in searching for the answer to your question, I have consulted with Koos Nolst Trenite, Ambassador for Mankind. His message is that the very function of an artist is "to bring in ethics" to the society. This poses a problem of circular logic. In order to determine that a person is in breach of a duty, it is first necessary to determine the nature of the duty. In this case, in order to label the dedication to Fluffy an ethical breach we must first define the nature of the artist's ethical duty when she created the monument. If an artist brings in ethics, then the artist defines their own ethical duties. If this artist defined her own ethical duties when she created the monument, only she can decide if she has breached those duties by dedicating the commission to her dead cat. Transgress and you will be transformed.

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Disclaimer: THIS COLUMN IS WRITTEN FOR ENTERTAINMENT ONLY. These situations are fictitious. Any similarity to one you know of is a coincidence. Every case is different. These are NOT legal opinions. YOU rely on the ADVICE contained in the answers at your own peril. IF YOU HAVE A REAL LEGAL PROBLEM CALL A LAWYER. (Adam Bobker is really a lawyer.)

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