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Frida Kahlo’s image may feel culturally ubiquitous but, according to the company that owns her image, that ubiquity comes with a price tag. The Frida Kahlo Corporation filed two lawsuits against online merchants on 4 March, accusing the vendors of selling products related to the artist in an unauthorised capacity. The company has demanded either all profits from these allegedly counterfeit sales or a payout of $2m “for each and every counterfeit use of the asserted trademarks”, Courthouse Newsreported.

“Defendants’ images, artwork and derivative works are virtually identical to and/or substantially similar to the Frida Kahlo works,” the company claimed in its complaint. “Such conduct infringes and continues to infringe the Frida Kahlo works in violation of [US trademark law].”

The Frida Kahlo Corporation, based in Panama City, Panama, was founded in 2004 by Kahlo’s niece Isolda Pinedo Kahlo, her daughter, Maria Cristina Romeo Pinedo and Venezuelan businessman Carlos Dorado. The company owns almost 30 trademarks associated with the artist, ranging from her name and likeness to soaps and cookware.

The company’s lawsuit claims that the online merchants used “fictitious names” to sell items on various platforms, including Amazon.

“Defendants communicate with each other and regularly participate in chat rooms and online forums regarding tactics for operating multiple accounts, evading detection, pending litigation, and potential new lawsuits,” FKC argued.

Trademark litigation has not always reached consensus in the Kahlo family, however. In 2018, the artist’s great-niece, Mara de Anda Romeo, won a temporary injunction stopping the sales of a Frida Kahlo Barbie Doll, publicly criticising Frida Kahlo Corporation’s decision to partner with Mattel in the production of a doll that lacked Kahlo’s signature unibrow, Mesoamerican wardrobe and prosthetic leg. Kahlo was a lifelong communist who died in 1954, and her anti-imperialist beliefs informed her rich figurative paintings. According to her great-niece, the political and social philosophies underlying Kahlo’s indelible self-portraits chafe against the consumerist aspirations of her namesake company. Dorado countered with accusations of sabotage, which were eventually dismissed by a judge in 2021, but the Superior Court of Justice of Mexico City ruled in the Frida Kahlo Corporation’s favour on the issue later that year.

In 2019, Cristine Melo, a Californian folk artist, filed a federal lawsuit against the Frida Kahlo Corporation in the hopes of halting its attempts to prevent her from selling Kahlo-inspired paintings. She accused Dorado of conning the Kahlo family into handing over control of Frida Kahlo’s legacy.

“It appears that FKC serves improper, wide-ranging takedown notices… forcing artists to either stop making art in homage to Frida Kahlo, or join FKC’s program,” Melo’s complaint read. Melo eventually dropped her suit.

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