McDonald’s thought it was bringing the energy, authenticity, and grittiness of New York streets to the Netherlands with its new culinary offering, the “New York Bagel Supreme,” and an accompanying mural campaign by a group of NYC graffiti artists, the Bushwick Collective. What the mega-corporation did not know was that it would also bring a taste of New York’s famed litigiousness.
A promotional video, “McDonald’s presents the Vibe of Bushwick NY,” features many of the murals that define the Brooklyn neighborhood. The catch is that the shots include the work of a half-dozen street artists—Don Rimx, Beau Stanton, Virus, NDA, Atomik, and Himbad—who didn’t consent to have their works included in the advertisement. They’re threatening legal action over copyright infringement, false endorsement, damages to their work and reputation, and profits from unauthorized use of their artwork.
The threat of legal action, coming from New York attorney Andrew Gerber, of Kushnirsky Gerber and released today, points out that the video claims that McDonald’s sought the permission of the owners, meaning that it contacted the owners of the buildings, not the artists.
“It’s frustrating that it should still be a novel issue that posing in front of an artwork for a commercial product is unlawful,” said Gerber in a phone interview.” Just because an artwork is displayed outdoors, it’s not up for grabs, he pointed out: “If anything, we should be strengthening legal protections for artists in order to encourage public artworks.”
Press representatives of McDonald’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The video itself has been removed from the web, but the publication Vandalog has preserved it on its Facebook account.
Gerber, for his part, has served as the attorney to several artists bringing complaints against large firms. Illustrator Lili Chin filed a $1 million copyright suit against Kohl’s; Francesca’s was the target of a $4 million suit for theft of pin designs; and, in another case involving street artists, a group of taggers sued celebrity pastor Rich Wilkerson of Florida’s Vous Church (who ministers to celebrities like Justin Bieber and the Kardashian sisters) over unauthorized use of their artworks.
The issue of which rights graffiti artists hold to their works has also been at issue in Queens, New York. There, graffiti artists whose work adorned a number of warehouses in a neighborhood known as 5Pointz have sued the owner of the real estate for knocking down the buildings without warning, a move they say violates the Visual Artists Rights Act. A judge has ruled that their complaint can go to court. (5pointz has been described as “the mecca for street art”; Bushwick Collective member Such applies the same label to Bushwick in the McDonald’s video.)
The crux of the McDonald’s case, said Gerber, is the false association between their work and the fast-food giant. “The case hinges on the perception that they are somehow affiliated with or involved with this product and that they are endorsing McDonald’s, when they absolutely are not.”
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