Oakley sued by graffiti artists for copyright infringement

In a page right out of H&M's recent graffiti copyright lawsuit, Oakley has been sued by two graffiti artists who claim the action sports company used their work in a campaign without getting their permission first.


In the complaint filed in federal court in California, street artists Donald Robbins and Noah Darr argue that Oakley "unlawfully [took] their original artwork," murals which the duo known as Keptione and DJ Rakus painted in San Francisco in 2015 as part of a global curated street art initiative called Meeting of Styles.

Robbins and Darr's complaint alleges that  "in an effort to increase sales revenues, attract young new customers, and target a young urban demographic, Oakley developed and launched the international multi-media campaign featuring the murals as the centerpiece element."

The murals in question are stylized tags of the artists' names. According to the artists, Oakley never contacted them about using the works which were incorporated into consumer-facing marketing campaigns seen in store, and also  used in ads and internally for sales in print catalogues.

Adding fuel to the fire, the complaint alleges that Oakley added its own branding to the murals. Robbins and Darr assert that "Oakley also superimposed its own Oakley brand logo next to the murals throughout the campaign, as if the Oakley brand created the murals itself."

The artists include arguments about how Oakley's use devalued their works, writing in the complaint that "the artists have carefully avoided any association with corporate culture and mass-market consumerism." Indeed, despite receiving offers to use their work commercially, Robbins and Darr have intentionally avoided corporate advertising campaigns, believing that collaborating in such projects would damage their "street cred."

The case echoes H&M's recent graffiti faux pas where the apparel retailer used Revok's work to launch its active line. Unlike H&M, however, Oakley is a core action sports brand and risks alienating its target consumer by doing something that violates street artists' rights.

Although the Orange County-based brand has been bought out by Luxottica, its heritage and target customer are much more closely linked to the creativity and authenticity that live through street, skate, and snow culture than H&M. As such, using graffiti art without getting the artists' approval could be much more off-putting to the Oakley target customer than the fast fashion H&M consumer.

For its part, Luxottica appears to be ready to fight, saying that the works lack any "modicum of creativity," are "generic," and therefore cannot be protected.

However, this could turn out to be a case where even if Luxottica's legal team successfully defends Oakley and achieves legal victory, its brand might suffer a moral loss. Indeed, the cost to the business of fighting artists who could be core influencers for the brand might make for a bigger commercial loss for Oakley in the long run than settling and pulling the campaign.

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