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Left, Urban Outfitters tee, right, Cali Killa’s stenciled sticker (via urbanoutfitter.com & according2g.com)

“I was really upset this morning when I found out that Urban Outfitters has STOLEN the work of street artist Cali Killa.” — According2g.com

Then again, do we really need ANOTHER reason to hate Urban Outfitters. Coincidentally, the tagline may have also been “found” on another street artist. I spotted a piece in Miami last month that read “Beware Hipsters.”

I’m a bit torn on this issue since I don’t know if an artist who uses public space to display their art (often illegally) has the right to tell someone else they cannot remix their work. In other words, if you remix public space, doesn’t someone have a right to do the same to you even if they make money off of it? If they don’t have that right, then isn’t the artist’s original work simply a form of illegal advertising? And illegal advertising is essentially what Shepard Fairey does nowadays since he goes after people who try to remix the images he himself originally created based on other’s work. I simply don’t understand why my public space — it belongs to all of us — should help sell your brand for free.

In a very related post: Cat Weaver on Huffington Post, “The Panda Appropriations: When Your Panda Is My Medium,” who writes:

And there is a degree of hypocrisy involved when those who “appropriate” seek control over their own art objects and wield a body of lawyers to do so.

Hat tip for According2g link to @artfagcity

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

18 replies on “Did Urban Outfitters Steal This Art?”

  1. Has anyone actually been able to confirm that Cali Killa didn’t SELL the design to UO for some money? Yes I have heard that UO have a history of screwing with designers, but should we assume innocence until proven guilty here?

        1. Even if Cali Killer didn’t take the photo themselves, s/he still developed an original concept from it, which has then been copied. Same as in the Banksy case.

  2. Also, I THINK, but I’m not positive, that the design on that shirt is pretty much straight ripped, not remixed, from a Cali Killa piece. At least, that’s a possibility. Check out this Cali Killa poster – http://www.flickr.com/photos/fredabercrombie/4861705056/. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had actually sprayed that message on a poster or sticker, and if that’s what UO turned into a shirt, that would make me uncomfortable. Otherwise, I think the article about the panda incident makes a good case for remixing and fair use, even if it sucks for Cali Killa.

    1. I think the distinction between remixing and appropriation needs to be emphasized. It is ethically consistant to be a proponent of intellectual property laws that permit applying your own creative energies to an existing idea — remixing — but but forbid purely copying an artist’s work for profit.

  3. I recall hearing from Ryan McGinness that Urban Outfitters ripped one of his designs off….someone told him…he verified…confronted them and was able to confiscate the remaining inventory…of which he sold off as art or gave away as gifts. I’m sure I don’t have all the details right but that’s the gist of it. He didn’t seem bitter about it, in fact he told the story with a little pride.

  4. Agree with the point that much street art nowadays is just the same as illegal advertising, and that’s unpleasant. But it would feel a bit draconian to strip somebody of their intellectual property rights just because they happened to place their artwork in an unauthorised place. The authorship and placement are two separate issues for me.

  5. They did the same thing to Johnny Cupcakes a few years ago. UO is notorious for ripping off unknown artists.

  6. There’s an entire blog dedicated to this subject: http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/
    Urban Outfitters appears to be a frequent offender.

    I’d be curious to know what an copyright or intellectual property rights lawyer has to say about the rights of artists who place work illegally on the streets. I also wonder what percentage of street artists have actually bothered to register their work with the Copyright Office.

    1. Thanks for the link, Luna. I actually reached out to a copyright lawyer when I was writing this but they refused to provide a comment. Still working on getting a more open intellectual property lawyer who can provide comment on this issues going forward.

  7. If you take as a given that it’s okay to draw art on someone else’s wall, it’s probably also okay to take someone’s stuff. This goes in both directions- it’s fine for Urban to steal Cali’s art-idea, but it’s also fine for Cali to steal Urban’s teeshirts.

    The shame here is that the cops don’t see it the same way, but Cali already works in a medium that invites police interference. A little more can’t be too much worse.

  8. It seems to me there is a huge difference between an artist using imagery from another source to create art (even if it’s a multiple) which has as it’s point furthering creative dialog; and a giant corporation taking and an image purely for profit, without permission from an artist even if it is displayed “publicly.” They are in no way trying to further the creative dialog. If I, as an artist copy someone else in my art, I am still making art. If someone takes an image of mine to make art, it is arguably something new in art

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