Salt Bae Being Sued for $5 Million Over Alleged Unauthorized Use of Artwork

A Brooklyn-based artist has filed a $5 million copyright infringement lawsuit against Salt Bae for the alleged unauthorized use of his work.

An unidentified man parks and takes a selfie next to the restaurant Nusr-Et.

Image via Getty/Boston Globe

An unidentified man parks and takes a selfie next to the restaurant Nusr-Et.

Salt Bae, real name Nusret Gökçe, has been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit over an artwork that shows him sprinkling salt in his signature style. 

The suit, filed on Monday in the Southern District of New York, was brought forward by Brooklyn-based artist William Hicks. 

Hicks is looking for $5 million in damages. He says that Gökçe used his art without permission for menus, takeout bags, wipes, the labels of his seasonings, menu displays, and digital signs at steakhouses in Turkey, Greece, and the United Arab Emirates. He says that Gökçe never asked for permission to use the art for those things/places, and hasn’t compensated him for it either.

The lawsuit says that in September 2017, Gökçe commissioned Hicks, as well as another artist (Joseph Iurato), to design a mural of him doing the viral pose for a Miami-based Nusr-Et Steakhouse. More murals were commissioned and put into steakhouses in New York, Dubai, and Istanbul. It’s not clear how much Hicks was paid. 

After getting the installations at those restaurant locations through legitimate means, the lawsuit says that Hicks learned in early 2020 that Gökçe printed the artwork without getting a license to use it, or paying him. A cease-and-desist letter was reportedly sent in April 2020. As the suit says, Gökçe and his companies responded by “[doubling] down on their already widespread infringement, expanding their willful use of the Infringing Materials to locations in Doha, D Maris Bay (Turkey), Boston, Dallas and several additional locations in Istanbul.”

You can read the full lawsuit at Eater New York

This new(est) ordeal follows previous legal issues that have involved Gökçe. In 2019, workers at his Manhattan and Miami establishments added their names to a collective-action lawsuit that alleged he was underpaying employees, pooling tips, and not paying some people overtime. Fast forward to earlier this year and a construction company sued his chain, saying that it was waiting on more than $933,000 in unpaid bills after erecting a Nusr-Et Steakhouse in Dallas. 

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