Graffiti Artist Claims Katy Perry’s Dress Infringes His Copyright

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 31, 2015

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Dress Design IllustrationBrooklyn Street artist Rime, born Joseph Tierney, has filed a copyright infringement suit against the Italian clothing design company Moschino and the designer Jeremy Scott, claiming that a Moschino dress worn by singer Katy Perry infringes Rime’s copyright.

Perry wore the dress in question to the 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Met Gala,” a high-profile event with many celebrities in attendance.

“Vandal Eyes”

Rime has been working under his street name since 1991 and his work has been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles as well as in galleries in the US and Paris.

He was invited by a property owner to create a giant mural called “Vandal Eyes” on the side of a Detroit building in 2012.

The Moschino Fall/Winter 2015 clothing and accessories collection includes graphic designs that Rime says copy his Detroit mural.

According to the complaint,

Defendants Moschino and Jeremy Scott––two household names in high-fashion––inexplicably placed Rime’s art on their highest-profile apparel without his knowledge or consent. …In case consumers entertained any doubt that the artwork in question was Rime’s, Defendants also added Rime’s name and fake signature on the clothing, in advertisements, and in media photographs…

The complaint also alleges that Moschino and Scott superimposed their own brand names in spray-paint style “as if part of the original work.”

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Designer Spray Paint

According to the complaint,

The idea of putting graffiti – or “street art” – on ultra-expensive clothing was meant to provoke and generate publicity for the brand/designer. Towards that end, Defendants paid Ms. Perry to advertise and display the clothing at the Gala….

Perry and the defendants also arrived at the Gala in a spray-painted Rolls Royce and carried around “Moschino branded cans of fake spray paint during the event.”

Perry was widely photographed in the dress and made several “worst dressed” lists as a result.

The Gala had a Chinese exhibition theme, and Perry’s dress failed to comply with the dress code.

Street Cred

Rime claimed that not only was his art exploited by the defendants, but his credibility as a graffiti artist was damaged “by inclusion in such a crass and commercial publicity stunt.”

Rime claims that he chooses his commercial projects carefully. Among other things, he accepted an invitation from Disney to “reinterpret Mickey Mouse.” He also placed his designs on Adidas and Converse shoes.

As I wrote about previously, graffiti art is considered to be “real” art and is protected by copyright law. It doesn’t matter whether it’s spray-painted on a building rather than oil-painted on canvas.

Graffiti artists have sued when their work was painted over by a building owner, and have also sued when their work was used in ads, movies, and clothing.

In a case involving the use of graffiti-derived images against clothing designer Roberto Cavalli, the complaint noted:

Nothing is more antithetical to the outsider “street cred” that is essential to graffiti artists … than association with extravagant European chic, luxury, and glamour – of which Cavalli is the epitome. To anyone who recognises their work, Plaintiffs are now wide open to charges of ‘selling out’.

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