The artists Curtis Kulig and Darren and Emmelene Mate (the duo widely known as DabsMyla) are suing Canadian footwear and accessories giant Aldo for copyright infringement after the company posted promotional photos on social media in which their murals serve as colorful backdrops. The posts have since been removed. In a pair of lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in California February 15, the artists accused the company of “using [their] mural to advertise their shoes and handbags” without the artists’ “knowledge, authorization, or consent.” The lawsuits also point out that both Kulig and DabsMyla have collaborated with brands in the past—Kulig, for instance, adapted his distinctive and trademarked “love me” tag for Starbucks water bottles—making the unauthorized use by a brand all the more egregious.
In an email to Artsy, Jeff Gluck, one of the attorneys representing both Kulig and the Mates, said:
It is offensive that Aldo would find nothing “improper” about allegedly using an artist's original work without permission in advertisements to sell their products. According to their attorney, Aldo believed it did not have any obligation to remove the advertisements, even after the artists asked them to. They eventually did remove the ads, but acted as if that was some big favor. Aldo seems to misunderstand the law, and we look forward to educating them in court. The artist community will not stand for this type of corporate culture.
The artists are seeking unspecified damages, reimbursement of their legal expenses, and orders barring Aldo from ever using their work again in such a manner. Contacted by Artsy, a spokesperson for Aldo declined to comment.
Street artists have become increasingly proactive in asserting control of their copyright in recent years. Last year, in a similar case, the Swiss graffiti artist Adrian Falkner (whose tag is “SMASH 137”) sued General Motors for using a mural he’d painted on a Detroit parking garage as the backdrop for a Cadillac advertising campaign.