H&M keeps messing up. Recently, there was the little black boy who they put in the “coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt, and now this. In January, renowned Los Angeles-based artist Jason “REVOK” Williams, sent the Swedish brand a cease-and-desist letter after friends and family contacted him asking if he was paid to collaborate with them. Apparently, tons of ads with images of his abstract work started popping up online, and the artist was never asked nor notified that they would be used. Like many artists, REVOK makes art for a livelihood — to feed himself and his family by selling gallery work and doing commercial projects, so to have his work printed on items by a brand as large as H&M and not be compensated was a huge hit and didn’t go over well.
At first, H&M had the audacity to countersue, noting that REVOK’s art was illegally placed on buildings and public spaces in New York, calling it “vandalism,” and arguing that REVOK “does not own or possess any copyright rights in certain graffiti that was painted on New York City property without the permission of the city of New York.” The argument might have had some legal merits, but it damn sure didn’t respect creators.
Predictably, street artists and street art appreciators everywhere were pissed, taking to social media to both protest and warn H&M of the potential ramifications of continuing with their lawsuit. Those who took REVOK’s side noted that H&M really didn’t want any smoke with people who purposefully vandalize public spaces. Other streets artists waged war in a different way, calling for street artists and enthusiasts to boycott the stores.
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It has emerged on Twitter that H&M may have filed a complaint for a declaratory judgement that their use of graffiti-style artwork in a recent campaign does not constitute 'unfair competition or negligence'. If successful, the lawsuit would essentially rule that any and all illegal artwork, whether it be graffiti or street-art, can be used by brands and corporations to their own end without the obligation to give any payment to the artists, or even obtain their permission. The lawsuit has come as a result of a legal dispute between H&M and US street artist Jason Williams, who uses the tag REVOK, after H&M featured an image of graffiti in a recent marketing campaign that Williams claimed to have created. The campaign involved a photo shoot and video filming session at a handball court in Brooklyn, New York, where REVOK's work can be seen in the shot. Williams, who allegedly demanded compensation and was denied, threatened litigation against H&M, accusing them of copyright infringement #boycotthm #boycotthandm
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For all to know. Choose who you spend your money with wisely. Boycott those that would do us harm……….. This week, fashion retailer H&M filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in New York, allegedly asking the court to essentially rule that any and all unsanctioned or illegal artwork, such as street art and graffiti, should be devoid of copyright protection and can be used by any brand or corporation, without any payment or even needing the artist's permission. This action taken by H&M is a full out assault on artists' rights and we must raise our voices. This could render millions of murals and important pieces of artwork worldwide completely unprotected and available for corporate use, without any payment or permission needed whatsoever. We must not allow this company to use our artwork and appropriate our culture to sell their products, for their own financial gains, while at the same time allow them to devalue and delegitimize our artwork, our culture, and everything we work for. This all began when H&M was caught using REVOK's artwork in an advertising campaign without permission. When REVOK asked them to stop, they responded by threatening him with criminal charges and filed this lawsuit declaring that all artists of unsanctioned artwork should be unprotected and have no rights whatsoever. There are many things wrong in the world today, and most of them are far more important than this issue. But if we don't take action now, many of us may find our careers and livelihoods in jeopardy, or one day see our artwork plastered all over an advertisement for some brand we hate and there would be nothing we could do about it. Go on social media, get the message out to the global artist community, and let H&M know how you feel about them. They have made it clear how they feel about us. #boycott #boycotthandm @hm we see you once again being a poor corporate citizen. Wake up.
Yesterday, H&M dropped the suit as a result of the PR disaster and potential losses from the boycott, saying that the company “should have acted differently” and that they were reaching out to REVOK to come up with a solution.
Hopefully, the solution involves the artist getting his coins, or the fashion label pulling the line completely if that’s what he wants. Either way, H&M clearly has a few things to learn about creative and intellectual property but even more about being a good corporate citizen.