A publisher for the late artist Robert Indiana has filed a fresh lawsuit against a rival company claiming it fraudulently marketed Indiana’s signature “LOVE” image for two decades, hampering the publisher’s ability to make money off a similar Indiana image, “HOPE.”

The suit is the latest in a long and bitter legal battle over the creative legacy and financial promise of the reclusive artist who lived on Vinalhaven for much of his adult life before he died in 2018.

Many of the legal battles over Indiana’s estate have been resolved, most recently a settlement announced in January by the Maine Attorney General’s Office that required attorneys for Indiana’s estate to pay back $2 million in fees. However, the fight continues between Michael McKenzie – whose firm American Image worked with Indiana to promote “HOPE,” an image modeled after the “LOVE” sculpture with the same tilted “O” – and the Morgan Art Foundation, the producer of the “LOVE” image and many other works by Indiana.

In the latest filing, McKenzie is suing Artists Rights Society of New York and its senior vice president, Janet Hicks, who assisted the Morgan Art Foundation in marketing the “LOVE” image.

McKenzie alleges that neither the “LOVE” nor the “HOPE” images were ever copyrighted. Artists Rights Society, however, has claimed that it holds a copyright on “LOVE” and has been “charging many hundreds of licensees many hundreds of thousands of dollars for use of their falsely claimed copyright and collecting millions of dollars paid by the licensees to use the supposed “LOVE” copyright,” the complaint states.

Furthermore, the suit alleges, “This repeated false marketing has injured and continues to injure American Image in its marketing of the ‘HOPE’ image because, by falsely claiming that the ‘LOVE’ image was copyrighted, Defendants and other Participants named herein gave the ‘LOVE’ image what was perceived to be an added value over the ‘HOPE’ image.”


Indiana created “HOPE” in 2008, using the same style as his iconic “LOVE” sculpture, and donated the proceeds to then presidential candidate Barack Obama, who built his campaign on a theme of hope. That image has become nearly as recognizable as the original.

McKenzie is seeking a jury trial and asking for a judgment of at least $10 million, which is an estimate of lost revenue.

Artist Robert Indiana poses at his Vinalhaven studio in 2008 with “HOPE,” which he created for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. AP Photo/Joel Page

“We are hoping to get these very serious allegations to the court’s attention as soon as the process will allow,” said his attorney, John Markham, of Boston.

Neither Artists Rights Society nor Hicks has responded in court to McKenzie’s complaint, which was filed this week in federal court in New York. A message left at the company’s New York office Tuesday was not returned, nor was an email sent to Hicks.

Morgan Art, although it is not named as a defendant in this suit, has asserted its copyrights of Indiana’s work previously but hasn’t been challenged legally.

Since Indiana’s death, numerous lawsuits have been filed over control of his work and legacy. A lawsuit between Indiana’s estate, the Star of Hope Foundation, and the Morgan Art Foundation was settled last year. Although the terms were not disclosed, both parties praised the outcome, which established a partnership between Morgan Art and the Star of Hope for years to come. Part of that includes overhauling the 150-year-old former Odd Fellows Lodge on Vinalhaven where Indiana lived and worked.


The many legal battles involving Indiana’s estate also drew scrutiny from Maine’s attorney general, whose office is responsible for ensuring nonprofits are operating legally. In April 2021, the Attorney General’s Office filed paperwork in Knox County Probate Court accusing the estate’s attorney, James Brannan, of breaching his fiduciary duty to Indiana by dragging out the legal affairs, running up his fees and overpaying other law firms he hired to represent the estate in court proceedings. The Attorney General’s Office, which originally asked Brannan to return about $3.7 million of the $10 million the estate has paid to lawyers since Indiana died, settled for $2 million.

Brannan disputed the state’s allegations but was pleased to resolve the dispute.

“I will remain as personal representative of the estate and will continue to fulfill my promise to Robert Indiana that I would administer his estate,” he said in a statement in January.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s two major art publishers – American Image and Morgan Art – continue to fight.

In addition to the latest suit, Morgan Art has a claim pending against McKenzie alleging that he forged Indiana’s artwork and failed to properly pay the artist his share of proceeds from marketing the “HOPE” image.

McKenzie denies those allegations, Markham said.

McKenzie also still has a suit pending in federal court in Maine against the Indiana estate and Brannan about whether McKenzie can continue to make artwork under Indiana’s name, including prints and sculptures of Indiana’s “HOPE” image. That case is scheduled to go to trial in April.

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