Spike Lee Was Spectactularly Unhelpful to Oldboy’s Allegedly Plagiarized Poster Artist

Senior Editor
11.29.13 49 Comments

"I'm in a wood trunk of emotion!"

A few days ago, a guy saying he was an uncredited (and uncompensated) poster artist for Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake (our review)  wrote an open letter to Spike Lee that was widely circulated online. The guy, Juan Luis Garcia, alleges that he created some poster art for Oldboy for an ad agency, but when they couldn’t agree on terms, he says they basically ripped off his work anyway.

Here’s damning side-by-side comparison one:


Perhaps not as damning as some, but certainly more persuasive than, say, the idea that Spike TV stole its name from Spike Lee.

The agency told me, “Congratulations, Spike loved a couple of the posters. Yours is going to be the key art.”, and I was thrilled. But when it came time to negotiate the licensing buyout fee the agency made an insultingly low offer. But they said that the important thing wasn’t the money it was the exposure and potential for more work. After thinking about it long and hard I had to decline. I tried to negotiate but they refused. I make the same amount of money in a single day as a photo assistant as what they offered and I had worked on these almost exclusively for two months. Plus there was still more work to be done so I had to refuse.

To make matters worse, Garcia says the ad agency never paid him what little they agreed upon, and he later found his artwork (the actual artwork, not the look-alike versions created by the agency) on Spike Lee’s Facebook and WhoSay pages:

Last night I was browsing the internet and my jaw dropped when I stumbled upon your personal and your production company’s social media pages. I couldn’t believe that you had been using and claiming copyright on three of those very same posters I designed. I just couldn’t believe it. I perceive you as an advocate of the arts and artists and have a sinking feeling that you are as much of a victim in this as I am.

On Garcia’s page, he includes screencaps of his original designs, with “copyright 2013, Spike Lee” and “copyright 2013, 40 Acres And A Mule Filmworks” now watermarked over them, which you might imagine would rightly piss a person off. In Lee’s defense, it looks like the pictures are gone now, and both came from his WhoSay account. If you’ve used WhoSay, you know it automatically sticks those watermarks on every picture you Tweet from it unless you specifically change it in your preferences. It seems pretty reasonable to assume that Lee just tweeted the poster proofs he liked without knowing any of the back story. Which was basically all Garcia accused him of anyway:

I need you to know the truth. Some of the posters you are using were stolen from me. I tried my hardest to resolve this amicably but the agency just blatantly refused. I am a fan of your storytelling and respect your success as a filmmaker, artist, and person. I definitely relate to your passion for the Knicks and competition, just ask my wife and family. I wish you nothing but success with Oldboy and all of your future projects. I hope we can resolve this between us because the agency refuses to work with me and they have tormented me and my family enough. Please feel free contact me at your convenience.

So, how did Spike Lee react? Did he raise hell with the ad agency and use his celebrity to help find satisfaction for the artist who got screwed over in Spike’s name? Did he apologize for the guy’s troubles and say it was an honest mistake? Did he send him some autographed Mars Blackmon glossies to smooth things over?


Haha, of course not. He just dickishly dismissed the guy while criticizing the guy’s method of handling the situation. Which, if you read the open letter, Garcia was pretty clear about writing Spike being his last resort.

Now, I doubt Spike Lee maliciously stole this guy’s poster designs or knew what he was doing when he stuck his copyrights over them – you can’t expect a guy who can’t even punctuate or properly capitalize his Tweets to understand the ins and outs of WhoSay. But there are basically two ways to deal with your critics online. You can either ignore parts of their argument that piss you off and try to see the legitimate criticisms in it and ask yourself if you could’ve done anything differently; or, you can just ignore the parts of that might be legitimate criticisms and just criticize the person right back for how they said things, or handled things, or spelled things (clearly, I’m not above it either). That always leads to a fun back and forth. Spike clearly went with the second.

So yeah, this guy’s beef isn’t with Spike Lee, that’s true. But Lee’s response is sort of like when you don’t want to see a girl anymore so you stop calling, and then when she gets pissed off about it you just use that as a way to blame it on her. “See, Linda? I told you I didn’t want all this drama!” Or when you fire a guy for some trivial reason and he tells you off, and you go “See, Tom? This kind of bitterness is exactly why we had to let you go!”

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