National / Crime & Legal

Japanese artist's plagiarism claim over goldfish-filled phone booth rejected by Nara court

Kyodo

A court has rejected a plagiarism claim by an artist who argued a merchants’ association in Nara Prefecture had copied one of his artworks featuring a telephone booth filled with water and dozens of goldfish.

Nobuki Yamamoto, 63, a contemporary artist, filed a damages suit with the Nara District Court last September, seeking ¥3.3 million from the association for its display of a similar phone booth on a shopping street in Yamatokoriyama, a city known for its goldfish farms.

“(The two telephone booths) have receivers floating in the water as a common characteristic, but apart from that they are different in terms of the color of their roofs and other things,” said presiding Judge Hiroo Shimaoka in handing down the ruling.

Yamamoto, who lives in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, told a news conference he will appeal.

“I wanted the artwork to be recognized as my original piece,” he said.

A lawyer for the association said the ruling is appropriate as it reflects the principle of copyright law.

According to the ruling, Yamamoto created his artwork by around 2000. The phone booth in question was set up in Yamatokoriyama in 2014.

The plaintiff argued the phone booth in Nara infringed on his copyright as it has a similar exterior to his creation and employed the same air bubble-generating system using the phone receiver.

The association countered, saying that putting goldfish into the phone box is “nothing but an idea” and cannot be subject to copyright protection. The association removed its version from the shopping street in April 2018, before Yamamoto took legal action.

Yamatokoriyama is famous for its abundance of goldfish farms, and each August hosts a national goldfish-scooping competition.

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