It's really hard to be a successful corporate retailer. Not only do you have to sell truckloads of stuff to make money, but you have to keep track of whose stuff it is you're even selling. Sigh. It's even harder when you appropriate a design by a band that's really popular thinking, "that'll sell," but then you realize after the fact that the originators might be mad about you using the things they created without permission.
After all, what's so important about copyright law in the digital age? It's not like Disney and other companies were lobbying the government to pass some crazy law that would shut down the internet on a part-time basis so they could protect their property...oh, wait... If imitation is a form of flattery, then here are a couple of great compliments.
Disney vs. Joy Division Last month, fans of the most hyped band to only exist for three years were shocked to discover that the brand a Mouse built had unveiled a T-shirt that was shockingly similar to the cover art for Joy Division's 1979 record Unknown Pleasures. The outcry over the unlicensed use was loud enough that Disney yanked the design from shelves by day two of the fiasco. The remaining members of Joy Division (who later formed New Order) have enough legal problems without trying to tackle Walt's empire. Bassist Peter Hook is battling the rest of his former mates over their attempt to do a New Order reunion tour without him.
Forever 21 vs. Kurt Cobain Way back in 1992, Nirvana's frontman used his other talent (drawing on T-shirts with magic marker) to craft a homemade tribute to the band Flipper (due at the Lion's Lair next month) prior to a performance on Saturday Night Live. At the time, everyone was so taken by how the band shredded on "Territorial Pissings" that the T-shirt didn't get much attention (it was also partially obscured by one of Cobain's finest cardigans). But physical and historical obscurity is no match for the thirst of notorious, Korean design-robber Forever 21. In December of last year, the company debuted a lovely white on gray replication of Cobain's homemade T-shirt without any acknowledgement of its origin (or payment to the artist's estate). Of course, no one was really surprised that Forever 21 would try to steal someone else's work -- that's kind of their thing.
Forever 21 vs. R.Land Atlanta-based artist and occasional Adult Swim contributor R.Land had the idea for Loss Cat, a fake flier searching for a cat named Speckles, late one night in 2001. He began pasting them all over town late at night in order to share the hilarity. It worked. People were convinced it was a real flier after it was published in both Found Magazine and their coffee table book, so R.Land claimed his work publicly, ending concern for the safety of the cat and sympathy for the imaginary child who posted the fliers. Imagine his surprise ten years later, when the design ended up on a T-shirt in Forever 21 in a much less funny form. It's no wonder Forever 21 has been the target of dozens of design-related lawsuits, including plaintiffs like Anthropologie, Anna Sui and Diane Von Furstenberg.
Urban Outfitters vs. Johnny Cash and Jim Marshall Jim Marshall's iconic 1969 photo of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera during his legendary performance at San Quentin prison is undoubtedly one of the most badass photos in the entirety of rock history. Of course it would make an awesome T-shirt. Only a total lame wouldn't want to channel their inner Man in Black with such sterling apparel. So who could blame Urban Outfitters for using the photo on a T-shirt in 2001? Turns out both Marshall and Cash could, because the retailer didn't get permission and a lawsuit ensued. Urban Outfitters settled as quick as it could because all the publicity was pushing sales of the T-shirt through the roof. Now, the company sells variations on the design, as well as some Johnny Cash records.
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