H&M files lawsuit against street artist

H&M is a multimillion-dollar brand known for their affordable clothes. Recently the brand launched an ad campaign for their new athletic line called “New routine.”  The campaign featured models posing in front of street art. One of these murals included work done by Jason Williams a.k.a Revok, a well-known street artist.

Williams saw the campaign and followed by releasing a statement against the brand’s use of his art. After gaining support from fellow artists William sent a cease and desist letter to H&M.

“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 Williams’ lawyer.

H&M responded to the letter later that week.

“Under the circumstances, in which your client’s claimed ‘artwork’ is the product of criminal conduct, Mr. Williams has no copyright rights to assert,” the retailer wrote. “The entitlement to copyright protection is a privilege under federal law that does not extend to illegally created work”.

Williams made H&M’s response public, this started a social media firestorm against the brand. Ethan Cobb, Decatur alumni also spoke out against H&M on social media.

The Visual Artist Rights Act passed in 1990 outlines the rights all visual artists have to their work, as long as the artwork is deemed “legal,” meaning it is on property that the artist either had permission or was commissioned to do art on. The act gives artists right to claim ownership, the right to prevent their art from being copied, distorted or mutilated (this includes defacing or covering up murals).

“The way H&M is handling the situation is really what makes me upset, instead of apologizing they’re deflecting the blame by saying graffiti isn’t a real art form,” Cobb said.

However VARA also prohibits a person from selling another’s work for profit, this can be applied to using it in advertisements. Williams was commissioned to do the mural in question, meaning his art is protected by VARA.

This story is still developing, it will be updated after the trial.