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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Artist Claims Gallery Forged His Signature

HONOLULU (CN) - Russian artist Victor Bregeda claims in Federal Court that two Maui galleries are selling his work with a forged signature stamp, and used his language barrier to manipulate an exclusive publishing agreement.

Bregeda, a realist painter, claims the publisher-gallery Sargent's Fine Art and its subsidiary Kim Richards Publishing are stamping and selling reproductions of his work without his authorization.

Bregeda, 48, claims he sought "to offer his artworks for sale at galleries and through various outlets over the internet and throughout the United States and the world." So in 2002 he signed a publishing agreement with the defendants to allow them to print and distribute "giclées" of his original works: "high-quality, fine art, digital prints made on ink-jet printers."

"The exclusive license extended to North America and Asia (but was understood to exclude Russia) and included a minimum exclusivity term of 10 years," the complaint states.

A 2005 exclusivity amendment extended the agreement for 17 years and into South America, Bregeda says. He claims the defendants never offered to have either agreement translated into Russian, and that he did not have a translator with him when he signed them.

"Plaintiff's understanding of English has been extremely limited, to the extent that plaintiff must seek assistance from others or online translator services in order to draft communications to defendants. Defendants were at all times relevant hereto aware of plaintiff's language barrier and thus were aware that they had a heightened responsibility to ensure that the terms of any binding agreements were clearly understood by plaintiff," according to the complaint.

It adds: "Throughout the term of the publishing agreement, defendants had a regular practice of sending plaintiff a large number of giclées, on which plaintiff placed his original Bregeda signature logo showing his approval to the prints, thus increasing the sales value of each giclée."

Buy by 2009, Bregeda claims, he had been delivered only 70 of 1,070 giclées due him under the agreement, based on 107 different giclée "editions" created by the defendants.

He claims each giclée was valued at $1,000, but the exclusivity agreements have made it impossible for him to make a living.

Bregeda claims that in 2009 he expressed his displeasure to the defendants and demanded that they either compensate him or face the voiding of the agreement and the loss of his stamp on the prints. The defendants responded with an email asking for a re-negotiation, "something that will work for both of us and complement and support your gallery in St. Petersburg," the complaint states.

Bregeda claims he stopped selling his original paintings to the defendants, who reached out to him again in 2010. Based on these solicitations, he says, he traveled to Hawaii and signed about 50 giclées for $15 each.

"During this visit, plaintiff stumbled upon a giclée entitled, 'Product of His Environment,' based on plaintiff's original work, in defendants' storage room. This giclée had a forged Bregeda signature logo in the corner," the complaint states.

Bregeda says he was not given a satisfactory answer to his question about this, and that when the defendants' computer technician emailed him to ask him about making a stamp of his logo he refused to consent.

"However, after April of 2010, defendants stopped sending plaintiff any giclées to sign, a drastic change from past practice," the complaint states. "Thus, plaintiff is informed and believes and thereon alleges that defendants have not asked for plaintiff's signature on these giclées because defendants have printed and continue to print and sell giclées of plaintiff's work with a forged Bregeda signature logo. These forged signatures falsely promote that these giclées have been authorized or certified by plaintiff when in fact plaintiff has not seen them or certified their quality."

Bregeda believes the original and amended agreements are null and void, and he turned down a second 2011 consignment arrangement offered by the defendants, who refuse to mediate.

Bregeda claims that the defendants continue to offer the 1,000 unreturned giclées for sale on their website.

He claims that in response to his November 2011 emailed demand for return of the "large number of giclées owed to him under the terminated publishing agreement, defendant Richard Sargent replied by email: "The truth is, if you want to =ake [sic] more money Victor, then you must take the risk with me ....=s [sic] soon as you let me know, then we can get busy supplying you with those prints of the originals you want." (Ellipsis and typos in complaint.)

Bregeda values the 1,000 unreturned prints at $1 million.

He seeks and accounting and damages for copyright infringement, false designation, breach of contract, and fraud.

He is represented by J. Stephen Street of Honolulu.

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