12 March 2018Copyright

H&M takes graffiti artist to court in copyright dispute

Clothing retailer H&M has filed a complaint for declaratory judgment after being threatened with legal action over its use of graffiti art in a marketing campaign.

The claim (pdf) was filed on Friday, March 9 at the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Jason Williams, who goes under the pseudonym Revok, threatened H&M with litigation after the retailer featured an image of graffiti which he claimed to have created in its online advertising. Williams allegedly demanded compensation from H&M.

In the claim, H&M said that Williams accused the retailer of copyright infringement, negligence and unfair competition.

H&M responded by saying that Williams “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”.

H&M is also seeking a declaration that its use of the graffiti does not constitute unfair competition or negligence.

The graffiti is on a handball court in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. H&M hired a production company to conduct a photo shoot and promotional video at the court in October 2017.

In its claim, H&M said that a member of the production company sent an email to the New York City department of parks and recreation asking whether it needs to pay royalties for the use of the graffiti. In its reply, the department reportedly said that the graffiti should not be on the wall in the first place.

H&M said it received a letter from Williams’ representatives in January 2018 claiming that it “included Mr Williams’ original artwork in an advertising campaign for H&M products without his permission or knowledge”, constituting copyright infringement.

The retailer responded by claiming that the graffiti was unauthorised and constitutes vandalism. As a result, it alleged Williams does not have any copyright because “copyright protection is a privilege that does not extend to illegally created works”.

H&M seeks a declaration confirming that the defendant does not own copyright and is not entitled to any copyright protection for the graffiti.

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More on this story

18 October 2017   Clothing outlet H&M has asked the US District Court for the Southern District of New York to rule that a range of clothing using the name of fictitious basketball team ‘Wildfox’ does not infringe a rival’s trademark.
19 March 2018   Retailer H&M has announced the withdrawal of its complaint against a graffiti artist out of respect for the “creativity and uniqueness of artists”.
11 September 2019   H&M has asked the US Supreme Court to overturn an “absurd” ruling in a copyright suit between the retailer and a textile company, warning that the decision “dramatically” expands the scope of acceptable infringement pleading.