"I will never purchase anything from H&M again". This was my opening statement to a comment I made on my Instagram page regarding this week's recent controversy about the lawsuit by H&M against the graffiti artist Revok. When the public became aware of this legal court battle a tsunami of comments and photos flooded the social networks about boycotting H&M which is a Fortune Five Hundred, multi billion dollar Swedish corporation owned by the 17th richest man in the world, Stefan Persson whose net worth is 28 billion according to Forbes.
The controversy began when the attorney for the LA based artist sent a cease-and-desist letter to H&M for unlawfully using Revok's artwork in their advertisement without the artist's consent in which Revok claimed copyright infringement. The corporate giant responded back stating that since the art was illegal it does not fall under copyright protection and moreover, the fashion company filed a lawsuit arguing their case in New York Federal Court to strip away the intellectual property rights that currently protect legal as well as illegal graffiti and street art. Any company or anyone would be able to use public art without permission much less paying the artist for his or her own creativity. If the court rules in favor of this corporate juggernaut the ruling would set a dangerous precedent that would negatively impact artists not only in the US but all over the world threatening their livelihood while companies profit from it. (Link to filed court papers https://www.worldipreview.com/download?id=10078 )
The backlash against H&M was loud and clear. The public's swift rebuke against H&M's attack on not only Revok but essentially the entire art community was tremendous. The recent controversy about the Afro-American boy H&M had modeling a t-shirt that read "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle" resurfaced back into public consciousness and that only further exasperated public opinion against the fashion company who also spoke out against H&M's use of conventional cotton, a synthetic cotton which uses a lot more water as opposed to organic cotton, while the dyes used to color their garments pollute the water. Moreover, the public scorned H&M for their employment of child labor from third-world countries like Indonesia. The exploitation of children and the environment of third-world countries have been going on for decades and apparently H&M is not above the fray.
You can imagine that when news broke out about H&M's lawsuit against Revok on top of their "fast-fashion" practices the public were infuriated about the audacity of them to want to exploit and steal the work of artists rather than pay them. Allegedly H&M contacted the NYC Parks and Recreation Dept. for permission but not the artist. The NYCPRD responded by stating that the graffiti was not sanctioned and because it was illegal it was not protected under copyright laws. H&M thought they were off the hook and not obligated to seek out the artist and creator of the handball court art for which they made profit from.
H&M's use of graffiti in their advertisement was to connect with the streets and they wanted to be cool and hip, well they got more than that because their court case ignited the graffiti world to take action in the only way they knew how to respond, by bombing their stores nation wide or in other words for those outside the realm of graffiti terminology, basically vandalized their store fronts. Newly created images of the H&M brand logo were altered such as replacing the & with a red middle finger, as well as many more photoshopped graphics that expressed anti H&M sentiments. As a result, the power of the internet as wielded by the people forced H&M to reconsider their lawsuit and taking criminal action against Revok for illegally painting the handball court.
Initially a statement was made by H&M about how they respect artists and "Should have acted differently", "It was never our intention to set precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art". Personally, I find the latter statement hard to believe because they were being sued by the artist who was not working with them and wanted the advertisement pulled from the H&M branding campaign and this would have cost the company a lot of money. H&M was told the art was illegal and that was good enough reason for them and the agency they hired for this marketing campaign to not pay the artist, rather than do the right thing by supporting the artist for the work they used to sell their merchandise. Their statement included that they were dropping the court case but the skeptical public did not believe this and due to the H&M statement not able to being confirmed on the H&M Instagram page or website which again fueled more fire of public contempt toward H&M. On Friday March, 16th a statement was put out by Gluck Law Firm Instagram page that confirmed the alleged H&M public apology as quoted, " I can confirm as of this morning H&M has voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit" and went on by saying that the law firm was going to be filing a law suit of their own against H&M which could only reopen H&M's lawsuit to strip away the intellectual property and copyrights artists are currently protected under. H&M withdrew their lawsuit "without prejudice" which means they can refile their claim indefinitely, which means we will be right back where we started, threatening the livelihood of millions of graffiti and street artists.
As a street artist I take this lawsuit by H&M to set a precedent to change the protection law and allow companies and brands to take artists' imagery for their own monetary gains a serious threat to my rights as an artist. It is my opinion that if public art whether it be a mural, a wheat paste or a sticker legal or illegal remain as the sole ownership of the artist and any company wishing to gain profit from such imagery should support by respecting the artist's creativity and support with payment to the respective artist. If the company likes the art and admires it to the point of using it in their advertisements, ie., catalogs, magazines, posters, billboards, merchandise, television show, Youtube or music video or movie, then they should want to pay for it and not try to change the copyright laws. Shame on you H&M for you exploitation of graffiti and street art. You are a multi- billion dollar corporation and could easily afford to pay Revok or any artist you attempt to steal from.
H&M, you realized the gross error in your ways and did not calculate the public resistance against your corporate greed. You really had no choice but to step back and reconsider your position because public support was, is and will remain against you. Your initial intent to steal Revok's art which is a direct attack on all artists' works released the "Graffcken" upon you stores. I will commend your wise decision to retract your lawsuit and to seek out a resolution with Revok and my suggestion is to pay him and try to redeem yourself in some sort of positive light in the public eye. If you had not checked yourself and pulled back the bombers and taggers who are relentless in their mission would not have stopped, nor could you have stopped them. Now you realize that the walls have eyes and we are watching your next move. What I suggest is that you play nice and never attempt such a foolish position again. You have forever lost millions if not billions of future dollars because of your thievery corporation. We the people spoke loudly, not softly and took a hard stance against you because artists' lives matter. Now you know not to mess with ordinary people because we are extra ordinary people. Thank you everyone who spoke out against H&M it was public support that made the ruling, not the courts. It was you and I and together we took the bull down by the horns and tamed that corporate beast.