Thursday, December 6, 2012

EXCLUSIVE: US sculptor files copyright complaint against billionaire property developer Igor Olenicoff

Olenicoff's copy of Wakefield's work
Following my report in The Art Newspaper in July 2011, and which I also reported on Artknows here, I can now report that Russian-born billionaire property developer and convicted tax felon Igor Olenicoff and the company he founded, Olen Properties Corp., are being sued by contemporary artist Don Wakefield for alleged copyright infringement.

In 2011 it emerged that Wakefield had found at least seven unauthorised copies of a unique, large-scale granite sculpture he had created in 1992 on properties owned by Olen Properties in Brea, Irvine and Newport Beach, California. 

In his copyright complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Wakefield alleges that Olenicoff wrongly presented the work to the Public Art Department in the City of Brea, California, and to the public in general, as the work of a Chinese artist.

Following my publication in The Art Newspaper of Wakefield’s claims, another American artist, John Raimondi, came forward with similar allegations against Olenicoff. Raimondi has filed a separate copyright complaint against the property developer and his company.

Igor Olenicoff: Forbes lists his wealth at $2.4 billion
In 2007, Igor Olenicoff admitted lying on his tax returns about his ownership of a number of foreign bank accounts. He was convicted of tax fraud and had to pay the US Government over $52M in fines. He is still listed as a billionaire on Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Bradley Birkenfeld, an employee of UBS at that time and the whistle-blower in Olenicoff’s 2007 tax-avoidance case, was recently awarded $104m from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for drawing attention to the illegal Swiss accounts held by Olenicoff and others.

UBS are the corporate sponsors of Art Basel Miami Beach contemporary art fair that is currently preoccupying most of the major art news outlets.

Don Wakefield says he has proof that Olenicoff was ordering copies of his work to be made in China and that he then submitted some of the sculptures to the Public Art Program in the City of Brea, California, bypassing the artists altogether, thereby saving himself significant expense.

Detroit-born Wakefield, who now lives in Southern California, found the first piece in 2008 but thought it was the original. He only realized his sculpture had been copied when he discovered three additional unauthorized copies in 2010 and three more in 2011. Later it emerged that several unauthorized copies of two different sculptures by east coast American artist John Raimondi were also found as a result of Wakefield’s investigation.

Wakefield believes that in terms of the size of the works — some being 25ft tall — the case represents one the largest copyright infringements in American legal history.

Both Wakefield and Raimondi are represented by attorneys Gene Brockland of law firm Herzog Crebs of St. Louis, Missouri and Mike Kuznetsky of Kuznetsky Law Group, Los Angeles. Both cases are pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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