Los Angeles-based photographer Estevan Oriol has filed two lawsuit against Swedish fast fashion giant H&M and retailer Brandy Melville respectively for copyright infringement. (For those who aren't familiar with Brandy Melville, it is an Italy-based trend-forward womenswear brand, which has namesake stores everywhere from LA to Switzerland and Spain). According to Oriol's complaints, which were filed in a LA federal court on Monday, both parties used his copyrighted image, “L.A. Fingers" without his authorization ... aka they put his photo on t-shirts and sold them without Oriol's permission. The image at issue was taken in 1995 and has since become iconic and has been legally published worldwide in various magazines and Oriol-branded clothing, which stocks at KarmaLoop and other sites.
Of the alleged infringement, Oriol (who is famous for documenting Los Angeles urban and gang culture) says: “If you put my photograph side-by-side with their re-creation of my image, anyone would tell you they are one in the same… they clearly copied my image." The artist is suing for injunctive relief and damages. While the shirt bearing Oriol's photo doesn't appear to be available on H&M or Brandy Melville's sites, Melville has quite an array of shirts that are clearly inspired by Oriol's image. For side-by-side pictures and a brief copyright lesson, read on ...
Why is this a copyright infringement case? Well, since the mid-1980's, original works of art are automatically granted copyright protection in the US, as soon as they are fixed in a tangible medium. So, as soon as the photo is taken or the painting is created, etc. Along with such copyright protection comes a bundle of rights, so to speak. This means that the artist is granted several rights: the right of reproduction, the right to distribute, and the right to create derivative works based on the original, among others.
As a result (assuming that Oriol's work is deemed original enough to meet the relatively low standard required for copyright protection), he has the sole right to reproduce and distribute his photograph. He may authorize others to do so, but if any party, such as H&M reproduces and sells his copyrighted image, even if it is depicted on a garment, accessory, etc. without Oriol's authorization, this is a violation of his rights.