Gucci's Scribbled Fonts Look a Whole Lot Like the Work of Jim Joe

Gucci is not making many friends with its latest collections – and collaborations (or in the case of Dapper Dan, a lack thereof). On the heels of the debut of its Fall/Winter 2017 collection, Gucci has taken to covering the sides of buildings with some of the slogans that were emblazed on tees.

The scribbled messages – such as “Common sense is not that common” and “I want to go back to believing a story” – are the result of the Italian design house’s collaboration with photographer/artist Coco Capitán, 24, who took her hand to some of Gucci's F/W 2017 wares, namely the house's wildly popular (and pricey) logo tees. 

If Capitán’s work looks familiar, it is likely because you have seen the artwork associated with Drake’s “If You're Reading This It's Too Late” album, which - as first pointed out by no shortage of Instagram users - bears a markedly similar typeface.

However, the similarity ends there, as Drake's artwork did not come by way of Capitán – but instead, from street artist Jim Joe. Montreal-born, New York-based Jim Joe was seemingly not immune to the commonality between his work and the slogan-ed Gucci wares, as he took to his Twitter account shortly after the Gucci show to tweet, "FIRST THEY LAUGH THEN THEY COPY."

image: Drake's album

image: Drake's album

When Gucci recently erected its Soho, New York-located advertisement, which reads, “What are we going to do with all this future?,” more claims of potential copying were raised on social media regarding the similarity between Capitán’s Gucci collab and Jim Joe's pre-existing works.

As for the legality of the situation, the Gucci collab is almost certainly in the clear here. The question is essentially: Can you legally protect a typeface? And if you can, is Jim Joe’s signature scribble original enough to warrant protection?

If we were taking European law into account, this would be a bit of a more fruitful inquiry for Jim Joe, as in many parts of Europe typeface designs are protectable by law. However, since Jim Joe resides in New York, the question becomes: What about the law domestically?

While copyright law in the U.S. does not require a high level of creativity to pass muster (meaning that Jim Joe's scribbled font just might be original enough to warrant protection), there is a more pressing matter: Copyright law does not provide protection for typeface designs. According to Volume 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which speaks to the copyrightability of typefaces, “The following are examples of works not subject to copyright and applications for registration of such works cannot be entertained: . . . typeface as typeface.”

image: Gucci's Instagram

image: Gucci's Instagram

While the copyright statute is not on Jim Joe's side, that does not mean that he is entirely out of luck. If he wanted to, Jim Joe may be able to make a case for trade dress protection. That is, if he can show that the font is directly tied to and serves as an indicator of his individual brand and recognizable as such by consumers. Even that, however, is not a home run, as trade dress is a difficult thing to prove and there is no way to say with certainty whether consumers view the font as distinctly his. 

Also absolutely worth considering in line with copyright law is the notion of independent creation, which holds that both Jim Joe and Coco each came up with the font on their own - a less scandalous but entirely possible scenario, as well.