H&M keeps messing up. Recently, there was the little black boy who they put in the “coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt, and now this. In January, renowned Los Angeles-based artist Jason “REVOK” Williams, sent the Swedish brand a cease-and-desist letter after friends and family contacted him asking if he was paid to collaborate with them. Apparently, tons of ads with images of his abstract work started popping up online, and the artist was never asked nor notified that they would be used. Like many artists, REVOK makes art for a livelihood — to feed himself and his family by selling gallery work and doing commercial projects, so to have his work printed on items by a brand as large as H&M and not be compensated was a huge hit and didn’t go over well.
At first, H&M had the audacity to countersue, noting that REVOK’s art was illegally placed on buildings and public spaces in New York, calling it “vandalism,” and arguing that REVOK “does not own or possess any copyright rights in certain graffiti that was painted on New York City property without the permission of the city of New York.” The argument might have had some legal merits, but it damn sure didn’t respect creators.
Predictably, street artists and street art appreciators everywhere were pissed, taking to social media to both protest and warn H&M of the potential ramifications of continuing with their lawsuit. Those who took REVOK’s side noted that H&M really didn’t want any smoke with people who purposefully vandalize public spaces. Other streets artists waged war in a different way, calling for street artists and enthusiasts to boycott the stores.
Yesterday, H&M dropped the suit as a result of the PR disaster and potential losses from the boycott, saying that the company “should have acted differently” and that they were reaching out to REVOK to come up with a solution.
Hopefully, the solution involves the artist getting his coins, or the fashion label pulling the line completely if that’s what he wants. Either way, H&M clearly has a few things to learn about creative and intellectual property but even more about being a good corporate citizen.