The counterfeiting trial of J.S.G. Boggs

J.S.G. Boggs (1955-2017) is an artist we've featured many times Boing Boing. He drew semi-realistic-looking currency (on one side only) and then invited cashiers at stores and cafes to accept the drawings as currency. Boggs always gave them a choice; they could take the money or his artwork. If they accepted his art, he collected the receipt and the change. His gallery would go to the store or restaurant and offer a nice price to buy the art from the cashier. Then the gallery would frame the receipt, the change, and the drawing and hang it on the wall.

As Boggs' work became more popular, commanding higher prices, he grew concerned that the authorities might consider that what he was doing was counterfeiting. He wrote to the Bank of England and ask them for permission to draw copies of bank notes, explaining that it was art and he wasn't trying to rip anyone off. The bank responded that he could not make reproductions of bank notes as it constituted counterfeiting. Boggs appealed the decision and again was denied. The bank notified Scotland Yard, which conducted a raid on the gallery, taking examples of his work. After examining the evidence, Scotland Yard declined to press charges. But the Bank of England wasn't satisfied and decided to prosecute Boggs privately in 1987 for reproducing its banknotes.

At trial, Boggs' attorney argued that Boggs' drawings were not "reproductions" because they were worth more than the original banknotes. He also argued that "only a moron in a hurry" would mistake Boggs' bills for banknotes. The jury deliberated for 10 minutes and found Boggs not guilty.

The embarrassed Bank of England responded by adding a copyright notice to its banknotes, which read "© THE GOVERNOR AND COMPANY OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND." Now the Bank of England could go after artists on copyright infringement charges since the counterfeiting charge had been declared bogus.

The video below, produced by the British Museum, tells the story of Boggs and his trial.

YouTube/British Museum