After receiving backlash this past January for it’s racially insensitive ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ ad, which featured a small African-American boy, today the retail giant H&M finds itself amid controversy again.
This time for attempting to steal graffiti.
Though already a downhill battle, the Swedish fast-fashion brand is in the middle of a copyright battle with artist Revok. The graffiti artist, who’s formally goes by Jason Williams, sent H&M a cease-and-desist letter after one of his murals appeared in an ad for the brand’s New Routine line of workout gear.
Revok claims the ad was an “unauthorized” use of his original artwork,” and, additionally, could cause consumers to familiarize his work with H&M’s brand even though the relationship between the two doesn’t exist.
This is not the first time H&M has been accused of copywriting artists’ work and creating pieces similar to their original designs. In this instances, Revok was adamant about people not associating his work with the H&M name.
In response to the cease-and-desist H&M filed a lawsuit claiming Revok didn’t own a copyright because, like most graffiti, his mural was created illegally.
“The entitlement to copyright protection is a privilege under federal law that does not extend to illegally created works,” the brand stated in a letter to Williams and his lawyer.
Their plan of action took the ire of many. Come to find out, trying to bend litigation to rob artists of their own art does not bode well with the art community. Several artists started a new campaign to boycott H&M.
H&M: I dOnT LikE gRafFiTi
Graffiti artist: lol pic.twitter.com/8U3Q8W9A86
— Lora Elyse (@lora_elyse) March 15, 2018
One in particular was Kaws, a world-famous graffiti artist turned sneaker-designing superstar who drew a picture of a headstone that read “R.I.P. H&M” and posted it to Instagram.
#Repost @emiliedevivar with @get_repost ・・・ 🤬 @hm #boycott « This week, H&M responded with a letter, saying that because the art work is illegal, REVOK has no legal claim to it. @_revok_ 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 entitlement to copyright protection is a privilege under federal law that does not extend to illegally created works. » #supportthearts #artists #whomadeyourclothes #dontbuy #knowledge
In response to the petition H&M issued a statement backtracking on their initial stance.
“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,” the company said.
However, they have not withdrawn their lawsuit. It seems that regardless of controversy, H&M remains headstrong. In late January they announced plans to close 170 stores and since December, the brand’s stock price has fallen from about $21 to $16.
For Revok and artists everywhere one would hope that H&M does not get away with this.
It speaks volumes to what cooperations can get away with and shows that there are little protection for independent creatives. Only time will tell.