Miami Artist AholSniffsGlue Sues American Eagle Outfitters for Intellectual Property Infringement

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Giulo Sciorio
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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144 comments
fuquinfuquinbe
fuquinfuquinbe

The nerve of people!! I hate AE.  they actually think they are doing the artist a favor by associating his work with their brand.  unfortunately the only people who want to be associated with their brand are insecure teenagers who think if they buy their awesome logo shirts, they automatically look like the genetically gifted models who are paid money to pose in their cheap clothes.

Xina Scuderi
Xina Scuderi

I just find it ironic. The whole situation of art and artists rights. I get this as a photographer. Who owns what. Who's allowed to do what. Who should be paid for what. Hot topic!

Miami New Times
Miami New Times

Xina, not sure how long SOLA has been doing that, but Ahol has done those eyes for as long as we've been aware of his work. They originally appeared as far back as 2005 in the Marguiles mural.

Henry Aruca
Henry Aruca

This is all kinds of effed up and some of the comments on here are beyond asinine. "Is it going to help AE sell more shirts?" Asks an apparent marketing genius HELL YES! Why in the world would they run a multi-million dollar advertising campaign using his work if that were not the objective? The simple answer is that they wouldn't. "He should be grateful." Says another obvious Harvard Rhodes Scholar who truly values their own work product. Seriously? Why would any artist, especially accomplished one, take pleasure in anyone else, especially an ad agency hired by a successful corporation, stealing their work? Answer... They would not. And they would and should sue. This goes way beyond snapping a shot for a catalog. This is a premeditated, full blown marketing campaign with the artist's work at it's very core. Good for you Mr. Ahol, and shame on you AE! You should've asked and paid. Now you'll pay and be publicity embarrassed, as will your copyright infringing agency. SMH. Merrit Strunk, Chris McLaughlin, Alexis Nahama, Jess Black.

Daniel Fernandez
Daniel Fernandez

The fact that no one at American Eagle said to themselves "This might be wrong and we could get in trouble." is mind boggling.

Freddy M. Satizabal
Freddy M. Satizabal

Maybe he should stop sniffing glue and see the true potential of his work before other companies do. I'm sorry to hear this happen to a local but if your 'big' artist, protect your work and take the exposure/royalties. Any publicity it is good publicity.. The 'fuck this' and 'fucking shame that' is the same reason no one wants to deal with us.. We are so 'fucking' quick to sue, get mad and make a fortune over night.. Our obsession with instant gratification is out if control..I'm glad others are seeing the potential of our artists/city. Hopefully the next time the person/works will be more prepared and we as a city will support the exposure instead of getting our rage out. #lovebeforehate #representmiami #miamimatters #miamihastalent #growthtoall

Donald Baldizon
Donald Baldizon

UNTIL. THE DAY YOU DAY YOU GOT THE COPYRIGHT ,HAPEN TO MEAS A ARTIST LOVE BRO KEEPP PPPPPPPPPPP FIGHTING

Brandon Trentler
Brandon Trentler

They might have gotten away with an incidental work in the background of a street shot or two, but they are using his work as the focal point of the campaign, going so far as recreating the work. They will have a hard time winning this case.

Valberta Guthrie
Valberta Guthrie

They should have known better! But then again not surprised!

Corey Davis
Corey Davis

Roly, I think your question is answered by the article. The corporation's actions went beyond a random selfie.

Roly Ruiz III
Roly Ruiz III

Does Ahole's art help A.E.O. sell more short shorts for men? NO so why does anyone care....he painted those eyeballs out in public right? So now anyone who has his art in the background is supposed to pay him.....wut if sum one that sells churros takes a selfie in front of it and posts the picture on fbook, twitter, and IG....is that A hole sniffing glue going to sue Mr Churro?

Anais Aragon
Anais Aragon

Why the sad face he's going to have a huge pay day!!!

Trish Shearer
Trish Shearer

I hope he wins, corporations shouldn't get away with blatantly stealing like that.

Kathryn DiNuzzo
Kathryn DiNuzzo

I can't believe American Eagle would do something so stupid.... Oh wait yes I can. #supportartists

Maria-Eugenia Ginés
Maria-Eugenia Ginés

Hoping it goes his way. What the store did in the Medellin opening is unbelievable

Nelson Breto
Nelson Breto

Excellent... May justice prevail with Mr.Glue :-) winning this case.

jpinmn
jpinmn

I work in advertising and its entry level knowledge to research the art/font/photos and either pay a licensing fee or not use the work. The licensing is always 10 times less expensive than paying for a lawsuit on the backend.

Insecure1
Insecure1

I know on Video Games you can't put textured street art in open city worlds. I know a large game publisher that lost a lawsuit in that respect. You can't take a graffiti mural and make money off reselling it. You will lose in any court of law hands down. The clothing store lawyers should have flagged this. Now they will come up with a settlement for the artist and move on. Just lazy and dumb of the campaign and advertisers involved. 

Nate Weis
Nate Weis

Idk. It looks more like they took photos in front of the murals. Which seems perfectly fine to me.

Jeremy James
Jeremy James

American eagle isn't cool enough to come up with any of that dope art themselves The pieces seem strangle out of place

Frank Castle
Frank Castle

ahol is one of my fav artists but he does have a case, american eagle is screwed, time to pay up american eagle

Carolina Franccesca
Carolina Franccesca

Serves AE right to get sued for using someone's intellectual property without permission! #epicfail

Street Art Brazil
Street Art Brazil

Ahol Sniffs Glue had just COPY a brazilian street artist (Sola). https://www.flickr.com/photos/solaeacomediadavidaseca/5007621971/ Sola started does this eye design many years before him...He just copy and become more famous because he is in Miami and not São Paulo. All people can see how is Sola and Ahol Sniffs Glue art years ago. How he can ask for copyright ? Even Banksy doesn't care that much about what people do with his art at the streets. He knows street art is public, has no owner. Just like Ahol Sniffs copy Sola, someone copy him now.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

Doesn't the "Artwork" belong to the owner of the property it is on?

leigh_h
leigh_h

It would if they had only used the image once maybe -- I'm not a lawyer, but i would suspect it's about intent -- Was their intention to use the art work as a defining image as part of a larger marketing program and/or campaign? If the answer is yes, it goes from being one photo where the mural is behind it, to the mural being used as art and therefore the artist should get paid.  

wesbelland
wesbelland

Come on. What if someone took a picture of you butt naked and plastered it all over as an ad campaign?

Zuel
Zuel

It's not.

cfw7
cfw7

something you need to realize is that all artists work is somewhat un-original in a sense that somewhere someone in the world created artwork similar to theirs. It's when these big corporations copy their art work blatantly plagiarizing and are making money off of it which is fucked up. it's insulting to any artist whether they did it out of inspiration from another artist or not. I'm sure you would be furious if this happened to you even if you did it out of inspiration. originality is a hard thing to talk about but plagiarism is fucked up and insulting. 

wesbelland
wesbelland

I know that there's a cross over here, but Ahol has a different style. Sola uses the eyes differently and adds more detail. Ahol is distinct to that effect. Also, American Eagle is taking the EXACT design from Ahol. You couldn't say American Eagle was copying Sola, because it doesn't look like Sola.

Also, artists copy shit and make it their own. American Eagle didn't make it their own. They just straight up used the exact design. There was no creative process involved whatsoever. They're also reaping mad profits off of this, so that's just messed up.

jpinmn
jpinmn

@Anthonyvop1 yes, but the reuse and licensing belongs to the artist. Same as you can own a cd of music, but you cannot take that cd and make copies and resell it as your own.

sdblosom
sdblosom

@leigh_h I'm in advertising. It doesn't matter if their intent was to use it as the sole image or not- they used it without permission and recreated it to sell their product. It's illegal and the idiot who did this deserves to loose their job. This is marketing 101, folks. 

sdblosom
sdblosom

@wesbelland You can take pictures in public, sure, but to use pictures of people in public to sell something - whether it's a brand image or a product - you legally need that person's permission and if you don't have it you get sued big time! ;) So don't worry about that butt nekkid image of you being seen in an ad campaign any time soon.

willryan042
willryan042

@wesbelland While I completely agree that what AE did is shitty, your analogy makes absolutely no sense.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@jpinmn @Anthonyvop1 

BTW on every CD case there is a licensing agreement where it is stated that the work is copyrighted and belongs to the artist.

Your purchase of the CD is your agreement to it.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@jpinmn @Anthonyvop1 

Not the same.

If you hire a painter to paint your home the walls are still yours.  Ownership doesn't switch to the painter.

If you hire a sign maker to make a sign for your business the sign is yours.


jpinmn
jpinmn

@Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn this shows you do not understand US copyright law. Copyright to a work is owned by the artist unless it is specifically sold or licensed. You do not need to print that a unique work is copyrighted. This is the law in the US. Now, if you are from another country, it might be different. If you disagree with that law, then take it up with the music and movie industries, they are the ones that crafted this type of legislation.

The other example you give - of a sign painter. That is correct. You are hiring them to paint a sign for you to own. From the article, this was a public art project that the artist did. However, he did not give away licensing to whoever owns the wall. The only right they have to that art is they can paint over it, if they want to.

gritsandgrids
gritsandgrids

@Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn It's not a service rendered. It's intellectual property. If someone paints you a painting, you cannot reproduce and SELL that painting without license from the artist. The painting is yours to own, but not profit from. American Eagle infringed on his Intellectual Property rights. The wall is the owned by the company that owns that wall. They do NOT own the right to resell and reproduce the artwork without written consent/permission.

jpinmn
jpinmn

@Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn sorry it is hard for you to understand, but it is the same thing. He did not paint a flat single colored wall. He painted his design/art work. This has had precedence in court for years. He owns his design, unless he licensed or sold it to you. 

Technically, if you want to debate that a cd is different - really a lazer is printing 1's and 0's on a CD. But, that makes someone's specific music. You can own the cd, but you cannot resell the music. (well, you can, but you'll be sued by the copyright holder.

signscientist
signscientist

@Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn Not true, If they pay for the art (licensing to do what they want with the art) then they can duplicate it. If they purchase a sign, they can't legally duplicate that sign unless they own the art. 

Char
Char

@Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn 


If you hire a painter to paint your home, you pay them. If you hire a sign maker to make a sign, you pay them. You pay to have that piece of work done. Simple. He wasn't paid or compensated for the use of his work.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@jpinmn 

I pay you or ask you to paint on my property that painting is mine.

Should be an interesting case to follow.

I am especially interested in the opinion of the property owner who I am sure will side on the side of the "Artist" to protect their street cred.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@gritsandgrids @Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn 

No.

If I pay you to paint my wall that wall and the image on it belongs to me.

Makes no difference if you or anybody else considered it "art"


Of course if the artist and the property owner came to another agreement then it is different but if nothing was agreed to except that you pain my wall then it is 100% mine.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@jpinmn 

You don't get it.

Unless they came to another agreement that we don't know about there is no difference between his work and some handyman painting a big "Two 4 One" sign on the side of a Dollar Store.

The owner of the property the sign and/or "Artwork" is on owns it.

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@Char @Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn 

No.

If Banksy was to paint one his works on my wall, with or without my permission, that wall still remains mine and he has no claim to it.

Financial compensation is not the only form of consent.

If the artist asked for permission to paint on the wall it doesn't change the ownership of the wall.

Now if the artist arranged some other agreement regarding ownership that is a different story.

gritsandgrids
gritsandgrids

@Anthonyvop1 @jpinmn Bro, do you even know what art is? Do you even know what intellectual property is? Copyrights? 


The painting would be yours, but not yours to reprint and from which to profit. It's the law. 


There is a huge difference between a wall of paint and a painting of art on a wall. A huge difference.


An artists owns all rights to any work of art created unless those rights have been specifically transferred in an agreement.


gritsandgrids
gritsandgrids

@Anthonyvop1 @gritsandgrids @jpinmn That's not how IP works. Unless there was an actual transfer of all rights signed and released, the artist retains rights except for the right for you to have a wall with a piece of art on it. You don't get to sell that work for profit, nor can you sign over rights for another party/company to use said works for any reason what so ever. That's how the law of Intellectual Property works.


If someone paints your wall yellow, then yes, someone can use that wall as a background for any reason because it is not a distinct work of art. This is not the case. His art is his intellectual property. He owns all rights not expressly signed over during the transaction.


Sorry, it's the law. It's not really a debate.

myronwat
myronwat

@jpinmn I'm not sure what @Anthonyvop1 doesn't understand about copyrights. I know many graff artists and they all copyright their designs and logos because of reasons like this. I'm sure he has the eye copy written. 

signscientist
signscientist

@Anthonyvop1 @signscientist @jpinmn Wrong, I do this for a living every day. People come to me for a sign. I do the sign. If they don't provide the art and I have to create the art for the sign, they only receive the files and have the authorization to duplicate the art that I created if they pay for it separately. Do you think commercial art is free?  Graphic designers don't deserve to get paid? 

emmandiana
emmandiana

@Anthonyvop1 @signscientist @jpinmn It doesn't work that way with art. If you were to buy a single piece of artwork from me I would still own the rights to that work. I could duplicate it as many times as I want and sell it .  You couldn't then take that artwork and use it for an ad campaign.  That is a totally different idea.  The art is for your personal use. You could not then duplicate my art and sell prints of it online.  Illustrators and other forms of commercial arts have written contracts and agreements that state how their art can be used and for how often. Companies can buy the rights to a piece of art indefinitely (which means they own the art and no one else not even you can use it for any commercial projects).  Or they can buy the rights for a specific project (IE an ad campaign, t shirt, album art etc etc)  This is how ART works. There are various forms of intellectual property.  They cannot be compared. Dance for instance is not as protected as say music or fine/commercial art.  Comparing these things is pointless because in the eyes of the law they operate differently. Legally this is a trick subject because most of the time companies rip off artists they alter it (redesign).  In this case it's a photo OF his work.We are talking about a photo of something someone created. Regardless of where it is. ( If you own a painting in your apartment american eagle can't come on with your permission and photograph it and use it for an ad campaign you do not own the rights despite owning the piece of art)

Anthonyvop1
Anthonyvop1 topcommenter

@emmandiana 

You have it wrong.

The work on the wall is no different than a handyman putting up a coat of Sherman-Williams.

It belongs to the owner of the wall.  


It is an interesting subject that can agree.  I work in a business that involves copyrighted material and would like to see how this plays out.

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