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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Art Hirst and foremost
The sheep from Wallace and Gromit
Where will Hirst look next for inspiration?
Despite not a whiff of rotting flesh or formaldehyde, Damien Hirst, the so-called "bad boy" of British art, has again prompted a storm of protest with his latest work.

Hymn, a 20-ft bronze sculpture of a male torso, has angered Hull-based company Humbrol, which fears the art work is a direct copy of its Young Scientist Anatomy Set.

Seemingly adding insult to injury, Hymn is the first of Hirst's works to net him a cool 1m, catapulting him into the super league of British artists alongside Lucian Freud and David Hockney.

Young Scientist Anatomy Set
Toy gory: Humbrol's anatomical model
Humbrol's model, complete with removable organs, can be picked up for less than 15 at toy shops around the country.

Earning fame, or rather infamy, for his pickling of numerous animals, Hirst has been credited with revitalising British art.

Considerably aided by advertising guru Charles Saatchi, who stumped up the 1m for Hymn, Hirst and his YBA (Young British Artist) fellows succeeded in taking art out of the gallery and into the newspapers.

The newspapers have certainly swooped on the 34-year-old's latest artistic escapade.

Copy spat

Normally accused of being at best puerile and at worst "highly offensive", Damien Hirst is now charged with copying.

"He's just stolen our product," one Humbrol "insider" fumed to The Sun.

The company's Frank Martin was more measured in his response to the 1m-sculpture.

Barbie and Action Man
What next for Damien Hirst?
"The similarities are quite striking," he told BBC News Online, adding that Humbrol were consulting their lawyers to see if any copyrights had been broken.

Modern art is littered with examples of commonplace commercial products being elevated into fabulously expensive works of art.

Pop artist Andy Warhol churned out almost as many Campbell's soup tins and Brillo Pad boxes from his "Factory" studio as the manufacturers of these mundane products themselves.

One of the first works by Hirst to find its way into the Saatchi collection was a cabinet full of medical supplies straight off the shelf, as it were.

Commercial break

Traditionalists (and newspaper leader writers) often rail against such works, saying they are of no artistic value.

However, sailing close to the wind of commercial culture takes a certain nerve says Gwilym Roberts, a patent lawyer with the legal firm Kilburn and Strode.

"There's nothing in the law saying just because it's art it is not an infringement of copyright."

Damien Hirst
On the lamb: Hirst's art
Mr Roberts says the laws surrounding the copyright of commercial designs are complex, particularly where works by professional artists are concerned.

That an individual could reap considerable financial rewards with a work which arguably finds beauty in familiar objects, clouds an already grey area of the law.

"Is it first and foremost a work of art or a product for sale? The laws pose more questions then they answer," says Mr Roberts.

When a "copy" of a product is made, intended for commercial sale, it infringes the design right of the original manufacturer.

Copy right

One-off replicas by artists may instead be accused of infringing copyright, which protects the work put into the original object or drawing on which all subsequent products were based.

Producing a copy of a larger scale, using different materials or agonising over what colour plinth to place it on cannot save you from landing up in court.

Lord Archer
Can can: Lord Archer's Warhol cans
"You're not protected from infringement by putting a lot of work into a copy," says Mr Roberts.

Of course, while many may debate the merits of using mass produced objects as a basis for works of art, the traffic of ideas is certainly not all one way.

Last year, Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing was angered by an advertising campaign she said was "inspired" by a piece of video art she had sold to Charles Saatchi in 1997.

Despite Mr Saatchi's reputation as one of the most influential patrons in the UK, Ms Wearing vowed to never to sell one of her works to him again.

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See also:

09 Jul 98 | Health
Top restaurant in medical stew
09 Oct 98 | Entertainment
Hirst fish dead in the water
08 Dec 98 | Entertainment
Saatchi sells off kitchen sink
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