Last month, we reported on artist Ophelia Chong, who discovered that Starbucks’ recent branding was strangely close to her own art work. The artist has since decided to drop the case and I asked her why.

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Hrag Vartanian: Why did you decide to stop the case?

Ophelia Chong: When I first saw the packaging, I was a mix of surprise and hurt. Then an emotion that should be kept in check surfaced, pride. It became about Me and my Work. I reacted like a man who answers the door and looks down at a child that sort of looks like him, sort of sounds like him, but he is not really sure if it’s his because the child can’t tell him who the mother is.

I could see bits of myself in the Starbucks artwork, but then I wasn’t sure. And not being sure meant that I let go. Letting go means I am moving forward and going back to doing what I do.

HV: What did the lawyers tell you that made you change your mind?

OC: My attorney gave me good counsel and let me decide what I wanted to do. And I decided to move on.

HV: This doesn’t bode well for the small person trying to battle the big corporation, does it?

OC: Each artist will have to make that decision whether they want to take that fight to a conclusion. I decided not to because I could see that it was not as clear cut as other appropriations.

For instance Nike’s use of Minor Threat’s 1981 logo art for their 2005 skateboarding demo tour poster Major Threat, which was a very clear cut appropriation.

My work could’ve inspired Starbucks, but then again it could’ve been created completely outside of my influence; I will never know.

For the artist who feels their art was appropriated, they will need to decide if they have a case, find an attorney who will take it on contingency or have enough funds to carry on the case to a conclusion that might or might not fall in their favor.

Pick your battles well because the war is a long one. I chose to let go and to go back to creating my art unfettered by stress, anxiety and the toxicity of anger.

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Hrag Vartanian

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

3 replies on “Artist Angered by Starbucks Swiping Her Style Is Letting Go”

  1. Here is another incident of art being ripped off – in this case dance. And this is not the first time for Beyonce. Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker does not appear to be filing a suit, though found the theft “rude”.  http://brandjack.typepad.com/brandjack/2011/12/time-for-beyoncé-to-apologise.html

  2. This story did reveal a double standard within the art word. When a famous artist, Shepard Fairey for examples, rips something off most within the mainstream art world are OK with it. Same goes for when Joy Garnett and others do the same. Yet when Starbucks or another major company is alleged to have infringed those same writers jump to defend the artist and make it a people vs. corporate American ‘good fight’.

    You can’t have it both ways — that is why strong copyright protection is important. Point blank — if a loose legal definition of ‘fair use’ becomes the standard appropriation artists won’t be the only people benefiting from it. Starbucks will… Walmart will… ObeyGiant certainly will… it will be open season on art. Everyone, including corporations, benefit from legal precedent involving copyright. That is something to remember… and is why I’ve never been able to grasp why some artists are so eager to see the interpretation of fair use widened to the point that copyright is meaningless.

    Now in this specific case I really don’t think the artist had much of a case. That said, the story has brought up an important issue — that being the double standard of appropriation within the mainstream art world.

  3. Totally hear what she’s saying here. After walking into Walmart and seeing my work on sweatshirts and t-shirts, let me tell you…I aged five years over a minute. After good legal counsel, I let it go – there just isn’t enough time and money in my life to fight a civil case like this. We did a few letters, and got to the point of finding the graphic designer who scooped the images for their production company, gave them a tearing up and down and asked for a written apology. I’ve moved on…educating folks is more important, I believe.

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