H&M Drops Lawsuit Against Street Artist

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 20, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's a case to be made that a graffiti artist may own copyrights to the scribbles on your property.

For now, however, that case will not be made. A clothing company had sued a street artist who claimed copyright for wavy lines he etched on a wall, but now the company has withdrawn the complaint.

H&M, a multi-national clothing company, voluntary dismissed its case against the popular artist. Basically, the company said, "my bad."

Fast-Fashion, Fast Lawsuit

The fast-fashion company had done a photoshoot for an advertisement that showed Revok's artwork in the background. Revok, the moniker for Jason Williams, saw it and demanded compensation.

Instead, H&M promptly filed suit to challenge the copyright claim. The plaintiff asked the court to rule that graffiti -- illegal artwork on private or public property -- should be denied copyright protection.

It prompted an artists' revolt on social media. Instagram became a platform for a boycott, saying: "This action taken by H&M is a full out assault on artists' rights and we must raise our voices. This could render millions of murals and important pieces of artwork worldwide completely unprotected and available for corporate use, without any payment or permission needed whatsoever."

H&M apparently heard their voices. Not only did the company dismiss its lawsuit, it apologized.

Copyrights, Copywrongs

According to reports, it could have changed the law on graffiti copyrights. On one side, lawyers argued graffiti is criminal conduct and not entitled to protection. On the other side, they said copyright protection is a given.

In any case, H&M pulled the rug out from under the debate. Instead, the company said it should have approached the issue differently.

"It was never our intention to set a precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art," it said. "We are currently reaching out directly to the artist in question to come up with a solution."

That, of course, means a settlement. Not of the graffiti copyright question; that will be answered in another court.

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