Liguori v. Hansen: a Hoover dam artist climbs to victory in the latest copyright infringement suit

by Jameel Odom

A Las Vegas federal court awarded artist Steven Liguori over $1.3 million dollars for the violations of copyright infringement and breaking a licensing agreement. 

Steven Liguori is a noted artist and sculptor whose works have been commissioned by a number of large public entities, including the City of Las Vegas and the United States Government. Mr. Hansen, the defendant, recognizing the quality of Mr. Liguori’s artwork, commissioned him to build a large sculpture of a worker on the Hoover Dam. This work, called the “High Scaler,” remains in place near gift shops and restaurants that Mr. Hansen owns and operates near the Hoover Dam. The largest part of Mr. Liguori’s compensation for creating this artwork was an agreement under which Mr. Liguori and his company, Bruno Liguori Turquoise Trading, Inc. licensed to Mr. Hansen the rights to manufacture and sell souvenirs based on Mr. Liguori’s work in exchange for a 17% royalty on all licensed products.

The Federal Court’s decision stems from a 2011 suit filed by Mr. Liguori against Mr. Hansen for the breach of a licensing agreement for products based on Mr. Liguori’s artworks and failure to pay royalty fees, the majority of compensation for the works. According to the Mr. Liguori’s suit, Hansen agreed to pay a 17% royalty on all licensed products for the right to sell souvenirs based on Mr. Liguori’s sculptures, but used likenesses of the pieces in ways that far exceeded the terms of Mr. Liguori and Mr. Hansen’s original agreement and refused to fulfill the 17% royalty obligation.

The sculpture at the center of the legal dispute is modeled on a photograph of a high scaler, a special breed of Hoover Dam laborer willing to climb high up the mountain and clear loose rock from the walls of Black Canyon while dangling from ropes tied to clifftop eye bolts.

“They were the celebrity laborers on the dam,” said Dennis McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum at the Springs Preserve and a leading Hoover Dam historian. “They’d be sitting in their bosun’s chairs, and over the side they went.”

“It was the most dangerous job so they earned top dollar,” Mr. McBride said. “They earned top dollar, which was $5 a day.” In today’s money, that converts to about $87 a day — or a little less than $11 an hour.

Mr. McBride said the man in the photograph on which the “High Scaler” was based is Joe Kine, who got a job with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and stayed on at the dam after it was finished. Mr. Kine would go on to spend the rest of his life in Boulder City, where he died in 1997 at the age of 91.

The Las Vegas law firm Hutchison & Steffen, which represented Mr. Liguori, announced the final judgment in the lawsuit stating that “A jury of his peers found that he just wasn’t treated fairly,” Hutchison & Steffen partner Todd Moody said of Mr. Liguori in a written statement. “Not only did they breach the contract they had with him, they also infringed on the copyright he had. And to be awarded the highest statutory amount was kind of the icing on the cake.”


Liguori v. Hansen, 2012 WL 1900944, at *1 (D. Nev. May 24, 2012)

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