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Visual Artist Max Hattler Files Lawsuit Against DJ Bassnectar

Noted animator sues over continued unauthorized use of his work despite popular musician’s admission and acknowledgement of the infringement.

The ongoing dispute between visual artist and animator Dr. Max Hattler and musician and DJ Lorin Ashton, also known as Bassnectar, has escalated with yesterday’s filing by Hattler’s attorney of a copyright infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

According to the suit, a copy of which can be found below, “This case concerns the theft of original content by an electronic music performer named Lorin Ashton (“ASHTON”) whose recorded and live shows rely heavily on the exploitation of the work of visual artists. Plaintiff, HATTLER, a visual artist, brings this claim against ASHTON to seek redress for the unauthorized and unlawful misappropriation, performance, and exploitation of HATTLER’s original imagery.”

According to Hattler, the dispute centers around Ashton’s unauthorized use of portions of two pieces, 1923 aka Heaven and Sync, without the animator's knowledge or consent, as part of live Ashton performances going back six years. The usage only came to Hattler’s attention when he was contacted by fans this past April.  They were angered by the musician’s perceived hypocrisy when the he published a March 29th announcement on his website admonishing fans selling “bootleg merchandise,” calling for them instead to either remove his logo or sell the merchandise through The Bassnectar Art Exchange, where Ashton ostensibly would receive a percentage of the sales.

According to Hattler’s attorney, Scott Burroughs, of the Venice, California law firm Doniger / Burroughs, “Ashton, through an agent, inquired about using Dr. Hattler’s work. When Dr. Hattler declined, Ashton simply exploited the work without permission, in complete disregard for Dr. Hattler’s rights. There is a certain irony in Ashton vigilantly protecting his own intellectual property rights [in reference to the Art Exchange announcement] while at the same time blatantly ripping off other artists.”

Burroughs maintains that Ashton’s use of Hattler’s work is far from fair and that the theft was willful in that use of the materials continued even after the musician acknowledged Hattler’s refusal to agree to that use.  As Burroughs explains, “When he [Ashton] was told that Dr. Hattler did not want his work used as part of Ashton’s performances, Ashton defied the artist by still exploiting the work. This is offensive not just from a legal standpoint, but from artistic and collaborative standpoints as well.”

The suit goes on to claim that in August of 2013, an agent acting on Bassnectar’s behalf reached out to Hattler regarding Ashton’s desire to incorporate Hattler’s original works into Ashton’s live performances. Hattler declined. As AWN reported on April 18th, Ashton acknowledged the unauthorized use of Hattler’s work with an April 17th Facebook apology posting, claiming he’d gotten to the bottom of the “misunderstanding” and had reached out to Max to “make it right by him.”

Bassnectar's April 17, 2016 Facebook apology.

Yesterday’s filing would seem to indicate that those attempts to make it right by establishing a dollar amount for Hattler’s compensation were not successful. As Hattler notes, “My work is very important to me and I need to take steps to protect it, even if that means having to go to court.” Burroughs acknowledged the unsuccessful negotiations, claiming, “There were communications regarding a resolution, but Ashton refused to acknowledge the true value of Dr. Hattler’s work, and the conversations did not prove fruitful.”

And while disputes regarding fair use, copyright infringement, creation of derivative work and blatant piracy are pervasive, often acrimonious realities in an age of explosive growth of innovative digital art and online dissemination, it’s too easy to write off situations like the Hattler-Ashton lawsuit as a simple disagreement over inadvertent use of digital materials found online, something “everyone does all the time.” As Burroughs concludes, “People today are consuming more art than ever before, and that art has value. If you are an artist and someone takes your work without permission, you are doing a service to all artists by pursuing the claims, because by simply standing up for your rights you are discouraging other would-be infringers.”

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Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.