MTA Targets Artist Who Uses MetroCards As Canvas

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — A local artist came up with a creative way to turn old MetroCards into high-end souvenirs, but the MTA is taking a swipe at her budding business.

What do you do with your old MetroCards?

“I pass them on if it’s the last day,” one straphanger said.

Most people throw out their old MetroCards, but artist Victoria McKenzie uses them as a canvas to create miniature paintings, reports CBS 2’s Kristin Thorne.

“I have a New York City taxi, I have a few images of the World Trade Center towers,” she said. “I thought if anybody buys these, they not only get a painting of something from New York, they get a piece of New York.”

McKenzie paints out of her apartment in the East Village.

She’s been trying to sell the cards online for $48 each. She’s only had a few buyers, but this week she got a disconcerting email that is threatening to derail her enterprise.

“I was very frightened and intimidated,” she said.

The message was from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, telling McKenzie that she had to stop selling the cards because they violated the MTA’s trademarked brand and logo.

The MTA offered McKenzie the opportunity to buy a license from them, which means she would have to give them a 10 percent cut.

“They want 10 percent of my $48,” she said.

CBS 2 spoke to several straphangers, and most said they couldn’t believe that the MTA would go after an artist.

“With all the fare hikes and service cuts, they’re looking to cash in on artists instead of really looking into ways to make the service free or affordable to the public,” subway rider Rocio Silverio said.

“I think that’s unfair,” said another straphanger. “They should be doing what she’s doing.”

“I just don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest for them to come after me,” McKenzie said. “They shouldn’t be wasting their time.”

McKenzie has written to the MTA, but she hasn’t heard back from them. In the meantime, she said she’s keeping her innovative business on the tracks.

The MTA issued a statement, declaring its order for McKenzie to stop selling her cards reasonable and fair. The transit organization cited her use of the trademark without being official licensed by the MTA as the main issue.

“We approach large firms and individual artists in the same way, and some choose to participate and some don’t. It isn’t the size of the trademark usage that matters, but the principle. Every dollars the MTA earns from licensing revenue is a dollar that isn’t earned from fares,” the MTA said in the statement.

For more information on Victoria McKenzie or to see more examples of her artwork, click here.

Do you think the MTA is being fair? Sound off in our Comments section below!

  • Margaret Redmon

    This is absurd! She is reusing something that would otherwise end up in the trash! She is not putting their copywrited material on something of hers, she is putting her art on something that they consider trash.

  • Nina

    Absolutely ridiculous! Artists like McKenzie help keep subway stations cleaner! It’s a beautiful form of recycle-art and the MTA has no business asking for a cut on her hard-earned money. If every recycle-artist had to give up 10% of the earnings for every recycled piece/product, then recycle-art would discontinue to exist. The MTA is hurting the local art scene and to ask artists like McKenzie for money is just pure evil. Wake up MTA!!! This is New York. We have more artists in this city then anywhere else and you’re biting the hand that feeds!

  • Hen Stern

    this city has turned into a hell hole with this pig of a Mayer and all his farm friends are eating us us alive charging us for every little thing in these hard times I’m not surprised

  • PM

    No surprise here. Just consider who the mayor of New York is and what he stands for. Greed first, stupidity second, and arrogance third.

  • Junior

    The MTA is a freaking joke! Freak those turds, all they do is steal and waste money then they want anybody who lives within 150 miles of NYC to help pay their bills, they need to be disbanded.

  • Opportunity

    She should accept their offer as long as it is granted without restriction and without an end date. She should outdo the mta in marketing their logo. In effect she could make tons and tons of money marketing mta logo items to tourists and residents alike. She should accept before they wise up.

  • Max

    The MTA is a total mess. It cannot account for what it does with the billions it spends.

    Just think, the MTA actually paid an attorney (they have a large staff of attorneys) to do this. The would probably incur the expense of a lawsuit to go after what, maybe $50 of licensing fees? This is what happens when there is no accountability.

  • Old Timer

    Easier to complain of this nonsense than say ,go after
    that foul oror on the 59th street & Lexington station where
    the RNQ trains come in from Queens.

    What is that Rotten Stink for the last 60 years?

    • Mike

      That is the rat poison they put down

  • Nigel Pearce Martin

    M.T.A. = More Trouble Ahead.

  • conart

    Once a so called “artist” has the garbage they create determined to be “art” , it becomes a commodity. When Keith Haring broke the law by drawing on the subway; that was art, but when poor minorites sprayed graffitti murals it was criminal defacement. A transplant yupster can ride the subway nude and take pictures of herself all in the name of art, but some hungry black girls eating pasta (yuk) on the subway are animals. If I had my way I’d send you people packing.



    • Wealthy Barber

      Interestingly, there is no proof that Barnum ever said, “there’s a sucker born every minute.” He did, however, say that “every crowd has a silver lining,” and acknowledged that “the public is wiser than many imagine.”

  • Rory Calhoun


  • lawyer for a day

    I have to side with the mta on this one – tangentially, it’s borne of the same rule making it illegal to deface money. No one uses pennies anymore, or even bothers to bend down and pick one up – yet it is still a crime to deface it in any way. Yes, even those restaurants and delis with the “good luck” written on the 5s, 10’s or 20s near the register. Technically, it is a federal crime. A company has a right to make something and, once trademarked, a right to decide you cant profit from it’s design. Sorry.

    • Captain America

      Yes, but is the U.S. Treasury going after the restaurant owner with defaced currency? It’s called regulatory discretion. Doesn’t anyone EVER apply a common-sense test? The MTA is the agency everybody loves to hate. What are they thinking.
      One question: has CBS properly vetted this story? This could also be a publicity stunt.

      • lawyer for a day

        no profits being made from the deli dollars hence no prosecution (ie, the gov’t can make money too).

        I’m with you on the publicity theory – I’m suspecting someone at CBS has a pecuniary interest here.

    • Greg

      and what about money that is defaced, by painting, gold cladding, etc, that are advertised on national tv? Federal currency is different than a plastic MTA, or Visa or Master Card.

    • Dan S.

      No, writing on money is not a “federal crime”, nor are those machines that stretch pennies and impress the logos of tourist attractions onto them. Trademarks only protect against competition in the same field. For example, Cadillac dog food does not violate General Motors’ trademark for Cadillac cars. So since this artist is not using the MTA logo to sell transportation services, she really is not violating their trademark.

  • liz

    ARE YOU KIDDING??????????????
    LEAVE HER ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    MTA —-WHAT DO YOU EXPECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????
    I think if she painted RATS on them they would sell like “hot cakes”

  • Wolf

    The MTA gets a fare from every rider. They get tax revenues from all real estate transactions in the city. Every cell phone and telephone bill has an MTA tax. Every employer pays an MTA tax on payroll. Is this not enough money for all the LAZY slobs at MTA?? I’ve yet to see a CLEAN subway station or subway car. And service SUCKS. Greedy corrupt money hungry lazy people. Andy Warhol never would have had this problem.

  • TvT

    It does not matter for two reasons, the artists has a right to use them as canvas if they are discarded and invalid and 2. they would not email her for this or ask for a cut if it was a real issue. An attorny would write a certified letter, notorized and hand delevered but they know they have little foot to stand on. Sorry, the email is a fraud.

    As an artist, I know that she has the right to use it and would win in a court of law for she is not mass producing the item and the MTA does not have a valid recylcling program to prevent the use of what becomes trash upon eperation.

  • FreeTamponDude

    The MTA logo should’ve been painted over. They dont deserve the free advertising. She should send the MTA a bill for all the advertising that was provided instead.

  • sailordude

    I might buy one if she painted a picture of those rats I saw the last time I rode on the subway. Maybe that girl slurping spaghetti would be another I’d consider buying.

  • Jennifer McGee Sheremetta

    leave the woman alone and let her do her art and sell it! HOUNDS!

  • Rugbyball

    1. MTA are PIA and trolls. The lady should just blot out any MTA logo or any text with her paint. Done, nothing to sue over, cant see the trademarks anymore.
    2. How many people are sick of this CBS News site refreshing every minute and you lose where you where on the page reading and have to scroll down to where you where. CBS Turn the FREAKING Refresh off of your site!! There is absolutely no need for it and it is freaking annoying!!!!!!!!!

  • comentator

    MTA, what do you expect?

  • sdel

    GOOD job MTA. $48? Is she even collecting the sales tax on her site?

  • rashmik

    Hey I took picture of me and my GF at times-square. Only problem there are signs of 123 and A to F trains in background. Should I keep it ??? I am afraid MTA will come after me as there brand logos are appearing in back..infact there are logos of another companies as well.

    F …… MTA

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    Emotions and irrelevant arguments about who owns garbage aside, the question is whether she has the right to produce and sell items with someone’s trademark on it. She certainly doesn’t have the right to PRODUCE the trademark, but she can SELL items that the trademark owner produced, just in the same way she can sell her used Nike sneakers. So long as she is not adding or recreating a trademark she does not own, the MTA has no claim whatsoever, and they should certainly know that.

    I’m not a lawyer blah blah blah, but a one will certainly chime in with the same sentiment, I’m sure.

  • Betsy

    After yet another weekend subway nightmare with virtually none of the trains I rely on stopping at the stations I needed, or taking random other lines for part of the trip, or stopping at stations on the uptown but not the downtown, stories like this really get my goat. The MTA is possibly the worst run subway system in the world and it thinks it has time to go after a small time artist who’s recycling their trash? I pay $108 per month for trains that are filthy, late, slow and completely inadequate. I’m constantly held up by “signal malfunctions” or “due to an earlier incident” or any of the other excuses the MTA gives for why I can’t get from A to B in time.

    I have a deal. Let’s do a serious study, of how many billions of dollars per year is lost by the city of NYC as a whole due to the disgusting state of the MTA’s public transport system. How many lost hours, how many meetings missed, how many late workers. And then maybe the MTA can pay back this money, minus of course the fortune lil’ old East Village artist lady is making. Sound fair?

  • henryKJ

    If you put something in the trash , and some one comes by and picks it up and use it ,it is theirs it is no longer yours. you ever heard of finders keepers losers weeper. The MTA should find a way to help the artist. give her a platform to work, she has a great idea, instead of grabbing ,why don’t the MTA start giving.

    Start cleaning up the nasty platforms and trains.

  • J Fen

    Free advertising. They should be paying her.

  • vincent merkel

    Maybe instead of going after artist…How about ridding the system of all the rats and that includes the idiots going after this woman

  • Jon

    Can’t wait until they start charging for seats & hand poles ASIDE from the fare itself

  • Nadine Noky

    seriously, before they complain, let them clean the garbage leftover at stations..

  • asdf

    What does the MTA do with used cards, throw them out? So they never heard of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? They’d rather have something thrown out than the “Reuse” of those 3 Rs?

  • RealNYer

    Bloombergmania is alive at the MTA

  • Johnny E Sells

    What can you say? It’s New York MTA? But I do not think they should go after the artist…. They should HIRE her to do artwork in their stations and cars. and let her sell her cards

  • Chase Underwood

    No, the MTA has no grounds to govern what happens to its garbage. Once the cards are paid for, customers can do whatever they want with them.

  • J


  • J


  • cecelia

    For crying out loud, the MTA does not have enough money. The Metro Cards were paid for and purchased from the MTA, which means they no longer own them.
    More power to this artist Victoria. I think what she has done is creative and very artistic. Much luck to you Victoria, you deserve it.

    • norbert

      she should just go with it. she will sell many more if her cards are in every station and the MTA helps her market them

    • rcat

      Nicely put. Who gets greedy over someone’s garbage?

  • iggy

    they’re garbage that has been thrown out. only the MTA would complain.

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