Miami Artist AholSniffsGlue Sues American Eagle Outfitters for Intellectual Property Infringement
AholSniffsGlue is one of the Magic City's quintessential street artists who is widely known for his trademark droopy eyes that keep watch over Wynwood at NW 27th Street and for more than a decade have peered down on I-95 traffic outside of the Margulies Collection.
So when American Eagle Outfitters descended on Wynwood earlier this year to package its 2014 spring break advertising with a distinct urban vibe, it became besotted by the local artist's attention-grabbing imagery.
The company, which earned more than $3 billion last year, boasts 1,000-plus stores around the world, and ships to customers in 81 countries, began using Ahol's work on its webpage, social media sites, billboards, and in-store displays as part of a sweeping international blitz to shape its brand identity and sell its product.
The problem, according to a lawsuit filed by Ahol, is that American Eagle never sought the artist's authorization or compensated him for plastering his work on its ads.
Last week, Ahol, whose real name is David Anasagasti, sued the retail giant in the U.S. District Court of New York for unlawful infringement of his intellectual property, in what could prove a landmark case for the rights of artists.
The Manhattan firm of Kushnirsky Gerber PLLC, the same outfit that represented Miami's Borscht Corporation when the NBA threatened an injunction against the local organization's screening of The Adventures of Chris Bosh in the Multiverse, is representing Ahol in his copyright complaint.
Wynwood, which has become world-renowned as an outdoor museum for its collection of murals created by locals and some of the international art scene's top talents, attracts photographers and filmmakers who visit the area daily to shoot the wildly popular artworks. For the most part, these photographers ask permission beforehand and credit the creators of the murals, as well as pay them a licensing fee.
But that's not always the case, as reflected by Ahol's suit, which alleges that representatives of the retailer set up shop in Miami's artsy district with a production crew of creative types and models to organize a campaign intended to appeal to the young adult audience the company targets -- but without crediting or compensating the artist.
One of the images American Eagle used on billboards depicts a male model wearing shorts and a patterned shirt while leapfrogging a fire hydrant in front of Ahol's mural on NW 27th Street titled Ocean Grown, commissioned by Ocean Grown Glass Gallery. The image, the suit alleges, was plastered everywhere from a billboard at Houston Street and Broadway in New York City to in-store displays worldwide, the company's Facebook page, Instagram, YouTube, and in storefronts from Colombia to Japan.
American Eagle also posed a model in front of the same mural holding a blue spray paint can, implying that its Justin Bieber clone had created the artwork.
During a store opening in Medellín, Colombia, American Eagle allegedly went as far as hiring three local graffiti artists to re-create another of Ahol's works on an eight-foot wooden panel, layering the company's logo over the iconic eyeballs for added impact.