Are graffiti worth of copyright protection? H&M’s change of mind
Hard times for the Swedish fast fashion giant. In the last year H&M had to face a profits drop, sales dip & stores shut down, and not least, the accusation of racism for a controversial advertising choice.
Some days ago, the brand has been involved once again in a media debate. Street artists have called for a boycott against the chain which have been accused of not supporting creativity and wanting to exploit street artists not recognizing the value of their works.
Probably we are facing a perfect case history of how a wrong corporate communication can bring a brand to appear guilty thought it may be not.
If an illegally painted artwork may or not be covered by copyright, how to establish its paternity since, very often, the works are not signed (precisely because they are illegally made ) and finally, if we have to recognize rights for the exploitation of the image is not an easy matter, and this was certainly not what H&M asked the New York Federal Court in its complaint against the street artist Jason Williams (aka REVOK).
Briefly, last January, Williams sent a cease and desist letter to H&M asking for the removal of the advertising campaign that included his original work, since the brand did it without his knowledge or permission.
Interestingly enough, H&M declared that, around the time of the photoshoot, they reached out to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation specifically asking if they had to pay royalties for using the graffiti image in the shoot, and that the response received sounded more or less like “those graffiti should not have been on that wall”.
This was enough for H&M to decide to respond to Revok’s letter with a lawsuit. The dispute could have been quickly solved, and without too much damage, with a formal answer to the artist, out of court. As it had already happened in 2014 between Roberto Cavalli and the same Revok.
The decision to bring the matter before a court, requesting an order to enable it to use the street art in the background of the new advertising campaign without having to pay the artist royalties for what is actually “vandalism”, has triggered a series of controversies that have cost the brand much more, both in money and in image.
After the accusations and the request for a boycott through social media of famous exponents of the street art world, like KAWS, who collaborated with the brand in the past, H&M decided to revoke the request, stating that “they would have acted differently and that they are currently reaching out directly to the artist to come up with a solution “.
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