Lawsuit of the week: Artist alleges BC Lottery Corp. used maple leaf image for scratch tickets without permission

Commercial artist Kim Hunter is suing the British Columbia Lottery Corp. (BCLC), claiming the company used an image of a maple leaf she created on a scratch-and-win lottery ticket without her permission.

Commercial artist Kim Hunter is suing the British Columbia Lottery Corp. (BCLC), claiming the company used an image of a maple leaf she created on a scratch-and-win lottery ticket without her permission. 

Hunter filed a notice of civil claim in BC Supreme Court on January 26. She claims she “expended time, labour, capital and made judgment in creating a distinctive, unique digital art image of a red maple leaf” from a “source leaf” she found in October 2005. In all, Hunter claims it took 14-hour days for a week to finish the image.

“Hunter cleaned and oiled the source leaf then scanned it to create a digital image,” the claim states. “From the scanned digital image of the source leaf, Hunter used her graphic design training, professional artistic skill, judgment and experience to design the leaf image through various programs, including Photoshop.”

Hunter uploaded the completed image to the internet and began offering it for sale on Canada-branded souvenirs with her leaf image. While she grants limited licences to sell the image, she claims she retains “full ownership of the intellectual property rights, including copyright and moral rights, of the leaf image and restricts its use.”

“The souvenirs are Hunter’s most popular products and the leaf image is Hunter’s most popular and highly demanded art,” the claim states. “The leaf image is the most important art that Hunter has created to date and it is the pinnacle of her global branding strategy (her ‘brand’), containing high commercial value to Hunter.”

In January 2017, though, the BCLC rolled out its line of scratch tickets branded to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. The company allegedly produced approximately 500,000 of the tickets, which featured images of maple leaves that “are an identical reproduction” or “a near identical reproduction” of Hunter’s maple leaf image.

The artist claims she notified the lottery corporation of the alleged infringement in September 2017.

“Hunter has not been compensated for the use of the leaf image by BCLC,” the claim states. “BCLC was continuing to promote and sell the scratch tickets as of November 2017.”

She seeks unspecified damages for copyright infringement and unjust enrichment and an injunction to prohibit the company from using the image. The allegations have not been tested or proven in court, and the BCLC had not filed a response by press time.