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Graffiti artists take revenge on Uptown H&M over ad campaign

H&M found itself on the wrong side of public sentiment when it sued a graffiti artist after using his work without permission in an ad campaign.

H&M found itself on the wrong side of public sentiment when it sued a graffiti artist after using his work without permission in an ad campaign. Lora Elyse

Lots of people are pissed off at disposable fashion outfitter H&M. Lots of stealthy, risk-seeking people carrying spray paint in their backpacks, with a knack for using anything they want as a canvas and getting away with it.

Somebody recently scrawled giant black letters across the entire façade of the Uptown H&M, reading what looks like, “Work Hard.” It wasn’t street art so much as old-fashioned vandalism – something that’s hit stores across the country as graffiti artists declare war on the company.

 

 

H&M found itself headbutting with graffiti artists after shooting an ad to promote a new athletic wear line where the backdrop was a handball court in New York City, featuring the work of a prominent Los Angeles artist named Jason Williams, a.k.a. Revok.

H&M didn’t ask Revok for permission to make money off his art, and Revok was upset enough to send the company a cease-and-desist letter. But instead of retracting the commercial, some genius on H&M’s legal team decided to hit back with a lawsuit blasting the artist for giving up his intellectual property rights when he committed a crime by painting the piece in the first place, without authorization from New York City. Anyone could use the piece for free and for any commercial purpose, H&M argued.

Legally, that might be true. But any large fashion chain that’s petty enough to actually go to court against a street artist in order to use his art without credit or compensation is going to look like an asshole. The public reacted in kind.

Graffiti artists have publicly called for a boycott; privately, they’re tagging stores with messages that leave no confusion as to what they think of the company.

In response to the pressure, last week H&M announced that it’s dropping the lawsuit, and is trying to work out a deal with Revok. Rest assured that PR students are taking notes on how not to pick a losing fight.