Ongoing questions about the application of intellectual property protections to graffiti tags are set to be discussed by the Central District of California, after a graffiti artist’s estate sued McDonald’s for copyright infringement.
The lawsuit, filed October 3, 2016, centers around the alleged use of a tag by Dash Snow. Snow, who died in 2009 at the age of twenty-seven, was a controversial New York-based artist known for his graffiti, explicit photography, and adamant anti-commercialism. Among his known works was his tag, “SACE,” which Snow was known to spray-paint in bubble letters around New York City.
According to Jade Berreau, Snow’s former girlfriend and the representative of his estate, and as alleged in the complaint, McDonald’s infringed upon Snow’s work by utilizing a similarly-styled tag in several of its restaurants. McDonald’s decorated hundreds of its European locations with graffiti images and themes, and allegedly incorporated Snow’s tag as part of the décor.
After Berreau requested, but failed, to have McDonald’s remove the images, she filed suit in federal court in California, alleging copyright and trademark claims. The copyright claim centers on a characterization of the tag as an “original graphic expression,” while the trademark claim focuses on the alleged source-identifying elements of the tag. Berreau’s complaint also alleged that the association of Snow’s anti-commercial work with the international restaurant chain could affect the reputation and value of the late artist’s work.
Alyssa Buffenstein, Dash Snow’s Family Sues McDonald’s for Copyright Infringement, Artnet News (Oct. 5, 2016), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/dash-snows-family-sues-mcdonalds-copyright-infringement-685901.
Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial, Berreau v. McDonald’s Corp., No. 2:16-cv-07394-PJW (C.D. Cal. Oct. 3, 2016).
Carey Dunne, Dash Snow’s Estate Sues for McDonald’s for Copyright Infringement, Hyperallergic (Oct. 5, 2016), http://hyperallergic.com/327789/dash-snows-estate-sues-mcdonalds-copyright-infringement/.
Jacob Gorshman, McDonald’s Has a Graffiti Problem: Graffiti Artists and Their Lawyers, Wall Street Journal (Oct. 12, 2016), http://www.wsj.com/articles/mcdonalds-has-a-graffiti-problem-graffiti-artists-and-their-lawyers-1476278127.