In another chapter of 2017’s incredible streak of “multinational corporation tries to appeal to the kids; mayhem ensues” episodes, McDonald’s stands accused of copyright infringement and false endorsement for using the work of New York City graffiti artists in a promotional video entitled “McDonald’s Presents the Vibe of Bushwick NY.”
On Wednesday, lawyers representing six street artists sent a letter to the burger chain threatening legal action and seeking “compensation for damages to their work and reputation, as well as profits derived from McDonald’s unauthorized use of their artwork,” according to a statement released by their lawyer Andrew Gerber of Kushnirsky Gerber PLLC.
The burger chain hired six Bushwick-based street artists to paint its new bagel sandwich in public spaces around the Netherlands while being filmed, using that footage for an ad alongside the “Vibe” video. While the four-minute-long video focuses mostly on the hired artists, who are part of the Bushwick Collective group, work by many other street artists appears in the video without permission.
The six artists currently considering legal claims are Don Rimx, Beau Stanton, Virus, NDA, Atomik, and Himbad. Gerber said he has also been in discussion with other artists whose work is featured in the video, and welcomed hearing from anyone else affected by the video.
He said because most of the impacted artists do not have registered copyrights for their work, they are primarily looking at “actual damages,” which is calculated based on a variety of components including disgorgement of the infringer’s profits, damage to the infringed party, or damage to reputation.
While street art enjoys standard copyright protections, artists who register with the copyright office are eligible to pursue statutory damages, with set amounts awarded based on certain legal criteria, up to $150,000 per infringed work, Gerber said.