Toronto artist claims TIFF stole his work

A local Toronto artist is claiming that Toronto International Film Festival copied his digital photography exhibit, The Motherships and used it for their Infinite Views marketing campaign without his permission.

Razvan Anton is planning to file a lawsuit against TIFF after the organization refused to credit him

Razvan Anton, a local Toronto artists says TIFF's Infinite Views marketing material campaign is based on his digital photography project, The Motherships. (Razvan Anton/Instagram)

A local artist is claiming that Toronto International Film Festival copied his digital photography project, The Motherships, and used it for its 2016 marketing campaign, Infinite Views, without his permission.  

Razvan Anton says he is now planning to file a lawsuit against TIFF after the festival refused to properly credit his work in the campaign.  

"I didn't want to get a lawyer. I just wanted them to give me credit," said Anton who studied image arts at Ryerson University.  

"I'm firmly convinced that these images were copied from me. They aren't the same work, but I believe that my work provided the basis for their idea," he says.

He first discovered the resemblance between his digital photography and TIFF's Infinite Views marketing campaign because fans of his work started sending him messages noting the similarity.   

On Aug. 22 he contacted TIFF through Facebook to raise his concerns, following up two weeks later via email. 

TIFF's response

CBC News contacted TIFF about Anton's allegations. In a statement the festival's vice-president of marketing, communications, digital media and creative, Jennifer Bell said, "we understand there are many artists creating beautiful work; often times with similar tones, aesthetics and vision."

TIFF says it offered to meet Anton and walk him "through the entire creative process" a week ago, but the local photographer "did not come in to meet with the team to understand how the campaign came to life."

Comparing Infinite Views and The Motherships

When he didn't receive the response he wanted, Anton posted an informational video to YouTube on Sept. 13 outlining the similarities between his work and TIFF's branding for Infinite Views.  

(TIFF and Razvan Anton/Instagram)
(Reena Chohan/Instagram and Razvan Anton/Instagram)
(TIFF and Razvan Anton/Instagram)

The 36-year-old began creating The Motherships over a year ago and sharing it online.

Anton describes The Motherships as "futuristic landscapes which come from cyberpunk culture" and says, "it's basically a virtual mirror of Toronto online."

I didn't want to get a lawyer. I just wanted them to give me credit.- Razvan Anton, Toronto artist

This is why he says he's now struggling to sleep at night after realizing the similarities between his work, which he considers a "cultural statement about Canada," and TIFF's marketing material.  

The idea for Anton's project, which was entirely shot on his phone, evolved by combining abstractions from Toronto's city landscape and experimenting with bright colours. This resulted in images, which he says are influenced by Japanese and modern European photography, because of their abstract elements and use of fluorescent colours.   

(Razvan Anton/Instagram)
(Razvan Anton/Instagram)

Urban kaleidoscope imagery 

Despite the resemblance between Infinite Views and Anton's own work, this style of photography is popular and other creators are making similar abstract kaleidoscopes of cityscapes and sharing them online.  

Another photographer called Roof Topper is capturing urban skylines in Toronto and manipulating the effect. (Roof Topper/Instagram)

Visual art's copyright

CBC News contacted Toronto entertainment lawyer Julie MacDonell, who frequently deals with copyright cases like this. 

"In terms of copyright law, the thing that makes this whole conversation difficult is that copyright law is complicated, ever changing and comes down to a subjective call in the end by whoever is adjudicating the situation," said MacDonell. 

"If the particular photographer is known for portraying images in a unique way, and if people are able to readily identify the photographer with that style, like Andy Warhol's soup can is very signature to that artist, and you copy the photographic interpretation than there may be a case for liability in copyright infringement ... But it's an area of law, especially when discussing visual arts that becomes very grey."