Just Because It Is Illegal, Does That Make It Okay To Steal?

Joanne Artman Gallery
Mar 22, 2018 11:11PM

Widespread copying and straight plagiarism is no new occurence to fast fashion. Swedish fast fashion giant H&M took a step in an even worse direction for its legal woes when it recently used artwork by a street artist without prior given consent in a marketing video.

To backtrack, such exploitation is not even a new issue in the fashion industry. In recent years brands like Zara, Forever 21, Lane Bryant, Topman and Jeremy Scott have all come under fire for plagiarism and copyright infringement. Zara, which according to analysts is the world’s leading retailer, unscrupulously ripped off artwork made by young, independent artists and designers who often lacked the monetary funds needed for lawyer fees to defend their rights.

In short, this is a massive concern. This murky gray swamp of plagiarism and corruption is supported by an inane ruling in a  200 year old Unites States case that states that clothing is a utilitarian item, not an artistic expression, giving big companies wiggle room in the fine print.

Return to Splendor, spray paint on canvas, 48 x 72 inches, by John “CRASH” Matos, a New York based graffiti artist whose numerous spray paint murals over the years have sometimes inhabited abandoned or unscantioned sites and would have been affected by the court ruling.

The latest uproar for the industry is directed at retailer H&M, not only for the stealing of intellectual property, but for the company’s response to the allegations as well. Rather than settle with the artist, H&M responded by suing the artist and questioning the validity of the claims. The lawsuit in turn questioned the very nature of graffiti and street art as a legitimate art form by asking the court to rule that any and all un-sanctioned or illegal artwork should be devoid of copyright protection, and would have set a precedent and in turn affect all artists who utilize public space as part of their artistic practice. The brand has since dropped the suit, leaving the question up for future debate.

Corona, spray paint and neon, 25 x 25 x 5 inches, by John “CRASH” Matos who has also done numerous successful brand collaborations over the years.

Such actions by corporations are not without consequence, affecting future generations of artists and the opportunities they are afforded. Furthermore, fashion and art collaborations have proven to be the most effective when consensual as shown by numerous positive ones such as the collab between graffiti artist John “CRASH” Matos and Levi’s, as well as Tumi luggage.

The case comes on the heels of the $6.75 million awarded in damages over 5Pointz developer who had whitewashed the building that had long served as a graffiti and street art mecca in New York City. This decision represents the most important ruling to date in applying the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 which sought to defend artist rights, and allows artists to file for monetary damages if their work is distorted, mutilated or otherwise damages their honor or reputation. For now, at least, this small victory gives hope for the future of recognizing the rights of graffiti artists, though certainly the battle over intellectual property and artist rights is far from over.

John "CRASH" Matos is represented at JoAnne Artman Gallery New York  ||  Laguna Beach

511 A West 22nd St, New York NY 10011  ||  326 North Coast HWY, Laguna Beach CA 92651

www.joanneartmangallery.com  ||  949-510-5481

Joanne Artman Gallery