UPDATED 3/15/18 6:55 p.m. ET: H&M has dropped its lawsuit against REVOK. You can read the company's statement on the matter below via The Daily Beast.
"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."
See below for original story.
A legal dispute between artist Jason “REVOK” Williams and H&M has erupted over the retailer's use of his work in a recent campaign. As pointed out by HYPEBEAST, the campaign uses Williams’ graffiti as a backdrop for some photos in their “New Routine” sportswear advertising. The specific wall at the center of this dispute is located in Brooklyn at the William Sheridan Playground.
Williams’ lawyer sent H&M a cease and desist letter back in January stating that the “unauthorized use of his 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,” according to HYPEBEAST.
H&M responded to the letter earlier this week with a lawsuit. “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,” the retailer wrote in a letter. “The entitlement to copyright protection is a privilege under federal law that does not extend to illegally created works.”
In response to H&M's decision, the famous pop artist Kaws called out the company on his Instagram story.
H&M hired an outside agency to produce the campaign, and that agency claims to have asked the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation whether or not they could shoot in front of the mural without permission from the artist. The NYCDP said “graffiti on the park handball wall was unauthorized and constituted vandalism and defacing of New York City property,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Williams' work, or other street art for that matter, isn’t copyright protected. Currently, a work is eligible for copyright 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 is H&M’s second controversial headline this year. In January, the retailer received major backlash after a photo of a black boy modeling a hoodie that read “coolest monkey in the jungle” went viral. In response to the adverse reactions to the racist image, the company has since hired a diversity leader to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.