Yet again, the eternal question is asked - is graffiti art or vandalism? In the latest turn of events, we can pick whatever suits us at a given moment - pun intended.
The Swedish clothing retailer H&M has filed a complaint for declaratory judgment after LA street artist Revok threatened with legal action over the use of his street art in their marketing campaign.
The claim was filed on March 9 at the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, after the artist sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company on January 8.
It all began when H&M released an advertising campaign for their “New Routine” collection. In one of the videos from the campaign, there is a male model “interacting” with a wall Revok, aka Jason Williams, painted. The piece is located at the William Sheridan Playground handball court in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The artist sent a letter to H&M earlier this year, urging the brand to remove the promotional materials featuring the graffiti he painted on the wall, due to copyright infringement. According to his lawyer, the use of his creations inside the campaign can be misleading to Williams’s fans, as they might think he has a working relationship with the company.
Last week, however, H&M responded with nothing less than a lawsuit, with their main point being that the ‘art work’, as they call it, has been “a product of criminal conduct” and therefore gives no copyright rights.
The entitlement to copyright protection is a privilege under federal law that does not extend to illegally created works, said H&M in their letter.
H&M goes on to say that the production company they hired had presumably inquired with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to see whether they need permission of the artist, to which the NYCDP responded that "the graffiti on the park handball wall was unauthorized and constituted vandalism and defacing of New York City property".
While this is not the first time Revok has it with fashion brands (previously, he sued Roberto Cavalli for altering the mural he created with Reyes and Steel in San Francisco - and won), this case certainly comes at a time of the ongoing debate on whether unsanctioned street art is protected by U.S. copyright laws.
Currently, a work immediately receives protection if it’s an “original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression”, as stated here.
This verdict could be as important as the one reached in the 5 Pointz case, and in the meantime, messages of support keep pouring in from the street art community, with fellow artists standing behind Revok.
Through an Instagram Story update, H&M has now issued a statement, saying they withdraw themselves from the whole thing, following numerous boycott calls.
At the time of the issuing of the statement, however, the campaign featuring the video in question is still up on H&M's website.
H&M respects the creativity and uniqueness of artists, no matter the medium. We should have acted differently in our approach to this matter. It was never our intention to set a precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art. As a result, we are withdrawing the complaint filed in court. We are currently reaching out directly to the artist in question to come up with a solution.
Stay tuned for more information as it comes in!