Artist Lynthia Edwards Says Deborah Roberts’s Infringement Lawsuit Against Her Is ‘Defamation’

The artist Lynthia Edwards filed a counterclaim last week in response to a lawsuit brought against her and her gallery, Richard Beavers Gallery, by the collage artist Deborah Roberts, who sued the two in September 2022.

In her suit, Roberts claims that Edwards purposefully engaged in “willful copyright infringement” of her distinctive style of collage in order to move in on Roberts’s market and confuse potential collectors.

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Filed on March 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the counterclaim, which names Roberts, positions Edwards as a David to Roberts’s Goliath and says the original lawsuit is an attempt “to destroy the reputations and livelihoods” of both Edwards and Beavers. The counterclaim also lists Roberts’s two galleries, Stephen Friedman and Vielmetter, as third-party defendants.

According to Roberts’s complaint, Beavers reached out in 2020, offering to sell her collages in his gallery and allegedly saying that “so many of my clients have you on their wish list of artists whose work they would like to acquire for their collections.” According to the complaint, after Roberts declined the offer, Beavers planned with Edwards to replicate Roberts’s style of collage that mixes photographs with textiles to create representations of Black children.

Roberts’s suit claims artist Gio Swaby mistook a work by Edwards for Roberts’s at the 2021 edition of the Untitled Art fair in Miami. Swaby messaged Roberts about the confusion, to which Roberts replied, “I know, we are handling it. She’s definitely coping me in fact using the same images as me.”

But Edwards’s countersuit claims that both Edwards and Roberts came to work in collage independently of one another. According to the filing, Roberts worked as an artist for 30 years before turning to collage during her time at Syracuse University’s MFA program between 2011 and 2014, while Edwards, who is based in Alabama, had been experimenting with collage since roughly the same time. The filing adds that the two artists “share common influences, including the Black collage artist Romare Bearden and the German Dada collage artist Hannah Höch.”

The counterclaim continues, “But Edwards did not need Roberts to have the idea of creating collage works with Black subjects: She is a Black woman and her works are inspired by her upbringing as a Black girl raised in the South.”

In an interview with ARTnews, Maaren Shah, a partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel who has defended the creative rights of artists like Richard Prince and Andy Warhol and who is representing Edwards and Beavers, said, “This is about more established artists and galleries misusing their power to suppress new creation and growth. We filed these counterclaims to protect our clients’ rights to create and sell art that is no less worthy than the art that came before it.”

The countersuit alleges that Roberts and her gallery Stephen Friedman Gallery have, through a “barrage of social media posts and private messages,” implemented a “campaign to destroy the reputations and livelihood” of both Edwards and Beavers. This “defamation campaign,” the counterclaims allege, has cost Edwards the ability to sell her work at art fairs and online, resulting in the substantial financial losses.

The filing claims that in April 2022 “a representative of Stephen Friedman Gallery” called the David Zwirner–run online marketplace at the behest of Friedman to ask that Edwards’s work be removed from the site. The gallery complied. That same month, Susanne Vielmetter allegedly tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Beavers from selling Edwards’s work at Chicago Expo.

Stephen Friedman Gallery did not answer a request for comment by the time of publication. Susan Vielmetter, in an email to ARTnews, said she had no comment.

The filing includes a transcript of a voicemail allegedly left by Roberts and addressed to Beavers. It reads, in part, “I see that you’re representing that girl in Pinson, Alabama who is ripping off my work. And I did get an attorney on her. We researched. She has no money. That’s the only reason I haven’t sued her. But I’m telling you right now: If she continues to show my work and do my work, I’m gonna make it public. Public. The New York Times. I don’t care what I have to do. I’m gonna squash this.

In an email to ARTnews, a representative for Roberts’s legal team at Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt called the new filing “purposefully misleading” and pointed to multiple instances of Edwards using the same source material Roberts had for works “in strikingly similar ways.” Several juxtapositions of the two artists’ work were included in Roberts’s original 2022 filing.

“This is quite a remarkable coincidence given the billions of images that can be found online,” the representative said, adding that “it should also be noted that Edwards started making these works shortly after Roberts declined Beavers’ request to sell her work.”

In the original complaint, Roberts asked the court for damages in excess of $1 million and an order for all works by Edwards to be destroyed. The counterclaims ask for damages caused by Roberts’s alleged defamation of Edwards, dealer Richard Beaver, and his gallery, as well as attorneys fees and punitive damages commensurate with the Roberts and her galleries “high degree of moral culpability.”


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