Hirst plans to sue the airline's "no frills" arm, Go, over the advertisement which features a number of coloured spots next to a caption saying "Go, the new low-cost airline from British Airways". He said it bears a striking resemblance to his own work.
Ever since Bridget Riley sued a clothes company for putting her black and white designs on to flared trousers in the 1970s, artists have fought hard to protect their ideas from being exploited. Last year the Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing launched a legal action against Volkswagen, and an art director lost a case against Guinness, which he claimed had copied his film.
Unfortunately for the artists, there is no copyright on ideas.
British Airways said yesterday that Go operated independently. "We have written to his solicitor telling him it is not BA but Go that he needs to deal with," said a spokeswoman.
Go said it had yet to hear from Hirst but added that the advertisement was not inspired by him. "The fact is that Go's logo is a circle, and the advert is just an extension of that.
"Circles have been used for transport for years - wheels are round - and the inspiration for the Go logo came from that and not from Damien Hirst."
Four years ago, BA asked Hirst to produce a design for the tailfins of its planes. The airline did not accept Hirst's quote for the work and the idea came to nothing. But other artists' work did appeared on the tailfins, to wide condemnation. The designs are being partly withdrawn.
Hirst was yesterday at Glastonbury and unavailable for comment, but his spokesman said that he had discussed spots with BA before the deal fell through and then spots had formed part of the Go adverts.