From the streets to the courts : H&M Vs. REVOK

In the era of fast communication and social media, Brands have to be extremely vigilant about the message they convey. The fashion industry as the ultimate Industry of appearances is specifically targeted in this regard. Every moves is publicly analyzed, criticized, and H&M is the last “victim” of that public eye watch.

In a campaign for its New Routine sportswear, the brand featured images and a video of a dancer backflipping off a wall designed with wavy black lines. This design is the work of well-known Jason Williams, also called REVOK.

After seeing his art displays without his consent by H&M, The attorney of the LA based artist sent a cease-and-desist letter to H&M asking them to remove their campaign.

A cease and desist letter is a cordial but official way to let someone know that they’re unauthorizedly using your copyright (or Trademark or Patent) and demanding them to immediately stop to avoid a lawsuit.

Where, very often the recipient of that type of letter simply comply to the written request, H&M chose a different and more aggressive path and decided to file a lawsuit against the artist. H&M stated that REVOK has no copyright to assert on its designs because “the claimed ‘Artwork’ is the product of criminal conduct”. Assuming thereby that no Street Art should or could be legally protected since most of the time it is done illegally on public structures.

A Copyright, however, is not granted based on the source of the work, it is even less about sanctioning the illegal or legal act that gave birth to a piece of Art. A Copyright simply requires two conditions; that the work is (1) original and is (2) a tangible medium of expression.
H&M’s attorney certainly was aware of that but it seems like the lawsuit choice was more a strategy to intimidate Jason Williams. Strategy that actually backfired on H&M who is now facing a major backlash on social medias from the large community of members and supporters of Street Art. Not a good beginning of 2018 for the fast fashion giant who recently faced another major controversy over their H&M Monkey Sweatshirt campaign.

In reaction, yesterday the brand shared an apologetic twit and announced the withdrawal of the complaint filed in Court. Additionally they’re declaring that they are reaching out to REVOK to resolve, non judicially, the conflict and they have removed the campaign from their website.
Some might think that it is already too late to fix the damages caused to their public image but what is certain is that Street Art is growing stronger from that matter. This grown of Street Art in general and in Court isn’t new and H&M could have seen it coming.
Indeed, street Art has been a trendy topic in Court Room and has been granted more and more legal privileges over the last few years. ((See Roberto Cavalli sued for copying Street Art) graffiti’s are already fully embraced and appreciate in the Art community. As such, they have entered Art Galleries and Museums of Modern Art, Street Art influential artists often graduated from the most prestigious Art School. It is satisfying to witness that, at last, this recognition of graffiti’s as relevant Art now overran the legal world and that judges grant more right to Street Artists.