Big brands steal from small, local artists and designers all the time. Forever 21 does it so often that doling out large settlements has become just one more part of the cost of doing business, like fabric, shoplifted stock, or underpaid child labor. But it’s still kind of shocking when a brand does it this brazenly to someone.
According to Brandon Stanton of the popular photo blog Humans Of New York, DKNY recently approached him asking to purchase the rights to 300 of his photos, so as to hang them in their window displays. The price they offered was not high enough for his liking, so he said no. But the photos were readily available on the internet, so naturally, DKNY went ahead and used them anyway for the even lower price of nothing. Writes Stanton:
I am a street photographer in New York City. Several months ago, I was approached by a representative of DKNY who asked to purchase 300 of my photos to hang in their store windows “around the world.” They offered me $15,000. A friend in the industry told me that $50 per photo was not nearly enough to receive from a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue. So I asked for more money. They said “no.”
Today, a fan sent me a photo from a DKNY store in Bangkok. The window is full of my photos. These photos were used without my knowledge, and without compensation.
Despite wanting more than $15,000 initially, his proposed penance for DKNY is not any such personal compensation, but a charitable donation:
I don’t want any money. But please REBLOG this post if you think that DKNY should donate $100,000 on my behalf to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. That donation would sure help a lot of deserving kids go to summer camp. I’ll let you guys know if it happens.
If $100,000 seems like a big number to you, remember that this is just a teeny tiny crumb of DKNY’s millions in annual profits, and also that the prince goes up once a company has committed a lawsuit-worthy offense.
Since then, DKNY has posted a public apology on their Facebook page, saying that they stole the photos by mistake:
Since its founding in 1989, DKNY has been inspired by and incorporated authentic New York into its imagery. For our Spring 2013 store window visuals we decided to celebrate the city that is in our name by showcasing “Only in NYC” images. We have immense respect for Brandon Stanton aka Humans of New York and approached him to work with us on this visual program. He declined to participate in the project.
For the Spring 2013 windows program, we licensed and paid for photos from established photography service providers. However, it appears that inadvertently the store in Bangkok used an internal mock up containing some of Mr. Stanton’s images that was intended to merely show the direction of the spring visual program. We apologize for this error and are working to ensure that only the approved artwork is used.
DKNY has always supported the arts and we deeply regret this mistake. Accordingly, we are making a charitable donation of $25,000 to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn in Mr. Stanton’s name.
Do you buy this? If there’s one thing I know about corporate enterprises of this size, it’s that nothing ends up in view of the consumer without first going through many levels of approval. It’s entirely possible for one employee to make a mistake, but there’s never just one person involved in projects like these.
For his part, Stanton seems satisfied with the donation, updating his post with the following statement:
$25k will help a lot of kids at the YMCA. I know a lot of you would like to have seen the full $100k, but we are going to take them at their word that it was a mistake, and be happy that this one had a happy ending. Thanks so much for your support, everyone.
If only every David vs. Goliath story could end in a mutual truce and some underprivileged kids learning to swim, the world would be a much better place.
(Via Humans Of New York)
Photo: Humans Of New York