H&M pulled their first BS move of 2018 back in January with this sweater. Now, its latest misstep has angered the entire art community after being spotted by an eagle-eyed graffiti artist.
L.A.-based Jason “Revok” Williams saw his work in the background of the above H&M ad, featuring a man backflipping in front a wall with his graffiti on it. Williams claims H&M ran the image without first obtaining his permission and in early January, after which he sent the retailer a cease-and-desist letter, citing copyright infringement.
Using Williams’s work without permission is questionable at best, but it’s the fast-fashion retailer’s response to his letter that really got people going. Last week, H&M filed a federal lawsuit arguing that copyright protection doesn’t extend to graffiti because street art is illegal unless deemed a mural by local jurisdiction.
Here are two notable reactions:
H&M supported its claim by stating that it hired an external agency to create the campaign, which received permission from New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation to shoot in front of the graffiti. But, amid numerous calls to boycott the brand on social media, H&M decided to withdraw its lawsuit.
In a statement sent to FLARE, the brand announced the withdrawal, and said it would be reaching out directly to Williams to make some sort of reparation.
“H&M respects the creativity and uniqueness of artists, no matter the medium. We should have acted differently in our approach to this matter,” reads the statement from an H&M spokesperson. “It was never our intention to set a precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art. As a result, we can confirm that we have withdrawn the complaint filed in court. We are currently reaching out directly to the artist in question to come up with a solution. We thank you for your comments and concerns, as always, your voice matters to us.”
This isn’t the first time Williams has pursued legal action in relation to his work. Together with two other graffiti artists, he filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that designer Roberto Cavalli had copied his artwork. Cavalli denied any wrongdoing, and ultimately settled the lawsuit outside of court. It’s also not the first time H&M has been accused of appropriating an artist’s work without payment. It allegedly stole music from a Melbourne-based musician for an Instagram video in February 2018, and sourced graffiti without permission from another artist in 2012.
According to The Fashion Law, a blog founded by New York City-based lawyer Julie Zerbo, graffiti copyright is a tough nut to crack—not only because copyright infringement cases related to it are usually settled outside of court, but also because the bar for obtaining copyright is pretty low. A work only has to be “original and composed in a fixed medium” as per the Copyright Act—but it doesn’t say anywhere that illegality affects copyright.
While H&M confirmed it is dropping the lawsuit and trying to making amends with the artist, it’s still frustrating to watch the brand keep making bad decisions. The lack of a public apology to Williams for capitalizing on his work is most definitely a bad look.
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