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#BoycottHM is trending again, and Irish graffiti artists are disappointed and angry


By Erin Lindsay
15th Mar 2018
#BoycottHM is trending again, and Irish graffiti artists are disappointed and angry

H&M is back in the firing line on social media with graffiti artists and their supporters using the hashtag #BoycottHM. In response to a complaint by a street artist about his work being used without permission or payment from the retailer, they have allegedly filed a lawsuit that would give them credence to use any illegal street art in their future campaigns without crediting the artist.

It has emerged on Twitter that H&M may have filed a complaint for a declaratory judgement that their use of graffiti-style artwork in a recent campaign does not constitute ‘unfair competition or negligence’. If successful, the lawsuit would essentially rule that any and all illegal artwork, whether it be graffiti or street-art, can be used by brands and corporations to their own end without the obligation to give any payment to the artists, or even obtain their permission.

The lawsuit has come as a result of a legal dispute between H&M and US street artist Jason Williams, who uses the tag REVOK, after H&M featured an image of graffiti in a recent marketing campaign that Williams claimed to have created. The campaign involved a photo shoot and video filming session at a handball court in Brooklyn, New York, where REVOK’s work can be seen in the shot. Williams, who allegedly demanded compensation and was denied, threatened litigation against H&M, accusing them of copyright infringement.

Tensions were heightened when H&M allegedly responded to the claim, saying that they had contacted New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and asked if they needed permission to shoot the graffiti and were told that it shouldn’t be there in the first place. It has been reported that H&M said Williams does not have any copyright ownership of the graffiti because “copyright protection is a privilege that does not extend to illegally created works”. It seems H&M filed their own complaint, which would result in their freedom to use illegal artwork in future campaigns without fear of reparations from the artists.

The news of H&M’s actions has spread across social media, with street and graffiti artists and supporters of their work using the hashtag #BoycottHM to spread the word.

https://twitter.com/CallmeCampbell7/status/973984990852612096

https://twitter.com/LukeWessman/status/974169564039671808

We spoke to a number of street artists across Dublin about the news, and the reactions were of real disappointment and anger at H&M’s actions. Dublin artist DECOY said: “I have seen my work used across social media as a happy backdrop for commercial use. This could be because of the attractive combination of colours I use, but I feel my art loses its context when this happens. I think that in no way should art be trivialized and seen as a free object to be exploited. Artists should retain the right to receive royalties and credit when and if their art is used. This is a serious issue and it needs to be addressed. Street artists need recognition otherwise their art form will not survive.”

Street-art collective Subset was also in favour of taking the advantage away from corporate giants like H&M: “If they fairly pay and credit the artist, then we see no problem with said artist providing their skillset to a brand of their stature. The artist just needs to thread wisely so as they’re not taken advantage of, something we have learned the hard way. Taking cash out of the hands of corporates, to fund art the public can enjoy, is the future. The commercialisation of art is nothing new, H&M has just crossed the line that manner others have crossed before them. Taking advantage of artists is commonplace. If they did that to us we would go for the jugular”.  They also reinforced that artists should stand together in instances like these, saying “art is community”.
One of Dublin’s biggest street artists Maser has warned of the effects that H&M’s actions could have on the retailer in future. “I would say to H&M and other corporations to pick their battles. I hope they are aware that they are challenging a community that is currently the biggest art movement globally. This community ethos doesn’t adhere to the governing rules that most people abide by; if anything, it strives and grows from its rebellion of the monitor gain system, a system H&M rely on for supposed ‘success’.”