Lawsuit Against Meow Wolf

Vince Kadlubek, CEO of Meow Wolf at the House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe.

Meow Wolf, one of the hottest interactive art exhibits in the West, has recently won a partial lawsuit against artist Lauren Adele Oliver, who sued Meow Wolf for using her artwork for marketing the company without her consent. Oliver’s artwork is a sculpture known as Space Owl, which is currently displayed at Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

According to Artnet, Oliver had first filed a lawsuit against Meow Wolf back in March 2020. Oliver, as an employee and artist, made two claims. Firstly, she mentioned how Meow Wolf “promised her an artist revenue share,” but “she only received $2,000 for her work.” Secondly, apart from the pay, Oliver also argued how Meow Wolf used pictures of her sculpture Space Owl for advertisement.

Artnet writer Sarah Cascone wrote how Oliver first developed Space Owl back in 2006. Furthermore, Cascone wrote how  “the towering furry figure is the centerpiece of her climate-change themed installation Ice Station Quellette at Meow Wolf’s flagship exhibition.” In fact, Oliver has been working for Meow Wolf since 2016, when The House of Eternal Return opened. Space Owl was one of the first installations in the House of Eternal Return. However, over the past seven years, Meow Wolf has miraculously become a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Oliver argued she did not give Meow Wolf permission to use Space Owl as advertisement for the company nor did she get the money she was promised.

Once Meow Wolf became aware of Oliver’s case, they tried having her case dismissed. Meow Wolf argued that “its employees’ verbal agreement with Oliver did not constitute a viable contract.” Although the court denied the motion at the time, a resolution with more evidence came about recently. 

Space Owl
Space Owl by artist Lauren Adele Oliver
Meow Wolf in Santa Fe
Meow Wolf in Santa Fe 

In January 2023, Cascone reported how “Judge Steven C. Yarbrough ruled that should the case be heard by a jury, Meow Wolf will be allowed to bring evidence that Oliver had deleted five years of email correspondence prior to initiating litigation.” Fortunately, Meow Wolf found some new evidence to support their case. Regarding Oliver’s deleted messages, which date back to July 2018, Cascone wrote, “A day before the mass deletion. Oliver had sent a text message asking for someone to help her find a “big gun” attorney who would help her secure a better deal with Meow Wolf.” Although the court found the timing of Oliver’s deleted messages peculiar, the judge didn’t find important information in Oliver’s messages that could be harmful to her in the case. 

Nevertheless, Oliver took a step further by suing Vince Kadlubek, the founder and CEO of Meow Wolf, in March 2023. Her lawsuit states, “copyright violation, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and misrepresentation over the terms of Space Owl's inclusion in the exhibition. Thus, Oliver requested over a million dollars in the claim.

Fortunately, on June 20, 2023, Artnet followed up with the case. On Friday, June 16, 2023, Magistrate Judge Kritan Khalsa “issued a summary judgment on several points in the case.”  Some points issued within the summary judgment were evidence of Meow Wolf having an “implied, irrevocable, nonexclusive license to use images.” Thus, Meow Wolf can use images of their artists’ work as long as they’re properly and correctly titled. Therefore, regarding Oliver’s case, more evidence was found of Oliver approving “ images of her work being used for promotional purposes, including instances of the artist reacting positively to examples on social media.” Judge Khalsa’s summary judgment only covers Oliver’s claims mentioned above, but any further accusations against Meow Wolf “still must be litigated.” For now, that’s where the case lies between Meow Wolf and Oliver. However, this is still a continuing story, and any new information regarding this amazing art exhibit will be reported.

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