‘Celebrity Pastor’ Rich Wilkerson Charged With Stealing Murals from Street Artists for Use in Advertising Campaign

Rich Wilkerson Jr., leader of Miami-based The Vous ministry, preaches during The Heart Revolution Conference in San Diego, Calif. (PHOTO: JAVIER TORRES STUDIOS)
Rich Wilkerson Jr., leader of Miami-based The Vous ministry, preaches during The Heart Revolution Conference in San Diego, Calif. (PHOTO: JAVIER TORRES STUDIOS)

A group of street artists say a church led by a pastor to celebrities like hip hop mogul Kanye West used their artwork from a Miami public school in an advertising campaign without their permission, according to a lawsuit.

In a copyright infringement complaint filed in federal court in Miami on Wednesday, the eight artists alleged Trinity Church Inc and its youth-oriented Vous Church satellite made ads out of giant murals they painted on the school’s outer walls as part of a revitalization project.

The complaint says the ads were placed on social media sites last summer as Vous prepared to launch services in Miami’s Wynwood district, where the school is located.

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Trinity Church is a large-scale Pentecostal ministry, which also has campuses in San Diego and soon, New York City. Representatives for Trinity and Vous could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

Vous’ pastor, Rich Wilkerson Jr, is known for officiating at West’s marriage to reality TV star Kim Kardashian. Wilkerson is also the star of his own reality TV series called Rich in Faith.

In the complaint, the artists, including well-known Miami graffitist David Anasagasti, better known as “Ahol Sniffs Glue,” said they would never have agreed to license their work to Trinity or Vous.

They created the murals to benefit the school, they said, “not a well-funded celebrity church brand or its prosperous pastors.”

The artists are seeking unspecified damages. Their lawyer, Andrew Gerber, said, “We are still very much open to resolving this matter.”

Anasagasti previously sued American Eagle Outfitters in 2014 for copyright infringement, also over an ad campaign. That case reached a confidential settlement.

As part of the revitalization plan for Wynwood’s Jose de Diego Middle School, the artists came together in December 2014 to paint murals, some nearly three-stories tall, that included a playful dog, a dancer, an upside-down rose, and the familiar work of Anasagasti – rows of eyes that appear half-asleep.

The school draws students from several poverty-stricken neighborhoods around Wynwood, located just north of downtown Miami, according to the complaint.

Vous now rents the school’s auditorium for its services, but the agreement does not include use of the murals. School officials told Trinity they must seek permission from the artists, who own copyrights on the murals, in order to use them, the complaint said.

The school is not part of the litigation.

The case is Magnus Sodamin et al v. Trinity Church, Inc and Vous Church, Inc, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 16-cv-20049.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Andrew Hay)

SOURCE: Reuters

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