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.
H&M has entered a legal dispute with artist Jason “REVOK” Williams over the copyright usage of his work in a recent advertising campaign. The campaign features imagery as well as videos of a male model clad in the retailer’s “New Routine” sportswear line while in front of a wall with Williams’s graffiti painted on it. The wall is located at the William Sheridan Playground handball court in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In a cease and desist letter sent to H&M this past January 8, Williams’s lawyer expressed that the fast fashion giant’s “unauthorized use of his [Willaims] original artwork, and the manner in which it is using the work, is damaging and is likely to cause consumers familiar with his work to believe there is a relationship between the parties,” HYPEBEAST has learned. Ultimately, the letter goes on to urge H&M to “immediately cease” Williams’s work from the campaign because they argue that it is an act of copyright infringement.
Today, H&M fired back at Williams and his counsel in a letter with a lawsuit expressing, “Under the circumstances, in which your client’s claimed ‘art work’ is the product of criminal conduct, Mr. Williams has no copyright rights to assert,” expressed the retailer. “The entitlement to copyright protection is a privilege under federal law that does not extend to illegally created works.”
In that same letter, H&M expressed that it apparently hired an outside production agency to capture the campaign at the handball court. Moreover, the production agency had presumably inquired with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDP) to see whether or not they need the permission of the artist responsible for creating the mural on the wall. The NYCDP ostensibly said that the “graffiti on the park handball wall was unauthorized and constituted vandalism and defacing of New York City property.”
There is still ongoing debate on whether or not unsanctioned street art is protected by U.S. copyright laws. Under existing law, a work immediately receives protection if it is an “original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” as stated in 17 U.S.C. § 102(a).
This isn’t the first time Williams took on a fashion brand for allegedly stealing his work. In 2015, REVOK alongside fellow artists Reyes and Steel sued Roberto Cavalli for copyright infringement.