Artist Wins Legal Battle Over Stolen Galaxy Wolf Art and Buys a Home


It took Berlin artist Jonas Jödicke only a few hours to create the artwork that would change his life. He didn’t know it then, of course. He didn’t even know whether he wanted to post it online. “It was really just a test,” Jödicke says. It was a painting, made in Photoshop, of a wolf’s head crowned in stars, with one side the shade of the summer sky at dusk and the other pale blue, the kind of thing you’d see on a fantasy-loving goth kid’s T-shirt. “I just wanted to put my own spin on [the trend].”

There were galaxy wolves before Jödicke’s, but if you were online in the mid-2010s, Where Light and Dark Meet is the one you remember. People printed it on hoodies, sold it on mugs, pencil cases, even toilet seats. His sister’s partner found it hanging over his bed in a German hotel room, Jödicke says. “Another friend of mine went to Vietnam and in a hotel lobby one of my artworks was on the wall—like, really big on the wall!”

Jödicke’s galaxy wolf was everywhere. The kicker: It was all stolen.

Like many artists coming up in the 2010s, Jödicke built his brand online. “Back then, it was like the golden era of social media for artists,” he says, recalling when platforms like DeviantArt and Instagram provided tangible reach and growth. As his following grew into the tens of thousands, eager fans disseminated his art across the web. After Jödicke posted a version of Where Light and Dark Meet on DeviantArt in February 2016, it took off. He wasn’t expecting it to gain so much traction, “but something about it really caught the attention of people and really kind of intrigued them.”


The image shot from site to site. Many found it on Tumblr, others on Instagram; it filtered through the internet at alarming speed. Yet, it wasn’t just fans sharing his work. When Jödicke searched “galaxy wolf” on platforms like Amazon and Alibaba, he found hundreds of stores, thousands of products, and thousands of sales using his artwork. For a long time, he felt at the mercy of thieves; powerless to push back against other people making money from his art.

It’s a familiar feeling for anyone who has shared their creations online, and one that’s taken on new dimensions now that artists frequently express worry that their work is being scraped by artificial intelligence tools. It’s a comparison not lost on Jödicke. “It’s just something that happens to you without you being able to consent to it,” he says of both.

As communal as the internet makes everything seem—including, at times, the art found there—that’s not the case. “Many people are unaware, or at least unconcerned, that their use of artists’ work may be infringing on that artist’s rights,” says Nick Eziefula, an intellectual property attorney at the London-based law firm Simkins. German copyright law dictates that copyright arises with the creation of a work, which means that as soon as Jödicke painted his galaxy wolf, the work was protected. With many stores subject to US law by selling on US-based sites like Amazon, Jödicke was able to use Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown orders to get his work removed from some stores, but the process quickly overwhelmed him.

“With every one shop that I got to take [items] down, another 10 popped up out of nowhere,” Jödicke says. “I almost wanted to give up on my art, because I felt so devastated that people would just take my work and profit out of it, and I didn’t see anything from it.”

The widespread popularity of Where Light and Dark Meet only magnified this feeling, making it unclear where Jödicke should start. “Where infringing use is widespread, it may not be feasible to pursue every single infringement,” Eziefula says. “Especially if overseas from the artist’s home jurisdiction, nor worthwhile, where the damage caused is minimal.”

Too often, however, the damage is significant—both in diverting income from artists and in diluting their brand, making them a more difficult proposition for potential clients. People often feel entitled to artwork they find online, and artists experience hostility when they try to assert their ownership of it. Yet, that entitlement is exactly what broke the dam for Jödicke and paved the way for him to fight back.

In 2020, Jödicke caught a lucky break of sorts when Aaron Carter—pop singer and brother of the Backstreet Boys’ Nick—used one of the artist’s other pieces, titled Brotherhood, to promote his clothing line on Twitter (now X). The image, which shares the same vibe as Jödicke’s galaxy wolf, depicts two lions butting heads, one white and one black, as their manes curl in the shape of a heart. A frustrated Jödicke called Carter out on Twitter. Demands for credit and or removal are often met with stony silence. On this occasion Jödicke received a response:

“you should’ve taken it as a compliment dick a fan of MINE sent this to me,” Carter wrote alongside a repost of Jödicke’s tweet, according to an August 2020 court filing. “oh here they go again, the answer is No this image has been made public and im [sic] using it to promote my clothing line… guess I’ll see you in small claims court FUCKERY.”

For the first time, thanks to Carter’s retort, Jödicke had options. The public nature of this exchange had IP lawyers lining up to represent him, and, after years of watching others make money from his art, Jödicke called Carter on his threat.

After a year of court proceedings in US District Court in central California, Jödicke says he got a settlement in the low five figures for violation of his copyright. It was a revelatory moment. “I had never really had any kind of justice,” Jödicke says. “That really, really motivated me to seek further legal advice and see if I could do something against all the art theft.” (Carter died in 2022.)

That was a singular infringement with an immediately identifiable infringer. Countering the widespread sale of his work on various pieces of merchandise would be a far more challenging task. His win against Carter, however, brought him to the attention of UK-based Edwin James IP. The firm approached Jödicke to offer its resources, specifically its specialism in stopping counterfeiters from domains where copyright law is more lax, like China.

Edwin James achieved this for Jödicke through its team of overseas researchers who, according to the firm’s client relationship manager, Sarah Vaughan-Jordan, scour the internet for evidence of counterfeiting before handing everything over to lawyers working in multiple jurisdictions worldwide. These partners then froze accounts, enforced restraining orders against US-based sellers to get Jödicke’s artwork removed, and recovered compensation from their counterfeiting in court.

Not all of them seemed aware they were violating copyright, or feigned ignorance, Jödicke says. “Many of the sellers that we sued would reach out to me on my social media for example, be like, ‘hey, like you just sued me, but I wasn’t even aware that it was your art.’” (WIRED attempted to contact many of the sellers, but most no longer exist, and the few that remain reachable did not respond to WIRED’s requests for comment.)

Though the law firm has more recently taken on artists’ claims that are almost similar in size, Vaughan-Jordan says, “Jonas’ case is the largest case in terms of counterfeiters found that Edwin James has completed to date.”

A year after the start of Jödicke’s case, Edwin James brought him the first batch of recovered funds. He is cagey about revealing the amount he has recovered. Jödicke does say that it’s been life-changing. “It made it possible for me to buy an apartment in Berlin and also basically took away all my financial worries for the future,” he says.

Artist Jonas Jödicke found his work, Where Light and Dark Meet (above), being reproduced on hoodies, mugs, pencil cases, even toilet seats without his permission.

Jödicke is far from finished. “To this day, we’ve sued over 4,000 shops. And they’re still finding more shops, so it hasn’t stopped yet,” he says. Meanwhile, he has kept a close eye on artists’ attempts to protect their work from generative AI scraping. While he says he’s waiting to see what legal precedents are set by the cases currently being brought against AI companies before pursuing any legal action of his own, he sees significant parallels with the counterfeiting of his galaxy wolf art.

“The unfortunate truth is that most of our [intellectual property] laws were first conceived well over 100 years ago,” says Bill Goodwin, a trademark attorney at the UK law firm Ward Hadaway. “It is my opinion that our laws have not kept up with the rapid change of technology we have seen over the last two decades and now we have the emergence of AI which will compound the issues.”

This is especially true in the UK, where a human author is not necessarily vital for copyright—as opposed to the US, for instance, where a work must be human-made to receive copyright protection. (In the EU, the guardrails are similar.) Yet, that does not mean AI is entirely without regulation.

“As the law stands it covers copyright and copyright infringement extensively so where someone has infringed another person’s copyright using AI or otherwise the law has it covered,” Vaughan-Jordan says. “The devil will be in the details and in future cases that set precedent.”

That precedent may well be decided in the coming years, as high-profile litigation—such as The New York Times’ cases against OpenAI and Microsoft and the class action lawsuit against Midjourney and Stability AI—may decide how the courts handle AI’s reliance on existing artwork for its training.

One of the lead plaintiffs on that class action is Jingna Zhang, a US-based photographer and founder of anti-AI app Cara. Having recently won her own copyright case, after an artist created a facsimile of her work, she’s now set her sights on AI.

“I think there is a sense of entitlement, ignorance, and hostility that people have toward artists similar to how it is in gen AI right now,” Zhang says. “The mass proliferation of free and pirated content online has made some people forget that there are real people who work in art—and that these artists and art jobs are what provide the entertainment and art that we enjoy or consume on a daily basis in our lives—that this is a real job.”

By bringing these actions against AI companies, plaintiffs like Zhang hope to not only inspire wins like those Jödicke scored but also drive legislative change that can better, and more specifically, legislate against a technology IP law is yet to truly reckon with.

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