Image: FUCT & Richardson

FUCT may have won over the U.S. Supreme Court in June, but now the celebrated streetwear brand is at the center of an ugly copyright infringement lawsuit. Artist and illustrator Richard Louderback is calling foul on FUCT and its founder Erik Brunetti, as well as fellow streetwear brand-slash-erotica magazine Richardson and its founder Andrew Richardson, claiming that despite his “protests,” the defendants have engaged in “despicable conduct” by producing and selling clothing bearing unauthorized copies of his Jaws-inspired work called, “Maneater.”

According to the complaint that counsel for Los Angeles-based Louderback filed in a California federal court late last week, FUCT and Richardson announced by way of social media posts in June that they had collaborated on and would begin selling a familiar-looking capsule collection. While the collaborative t-shirts and sweatshirts, among other goods, make use of Louderback’s “Maneater” image, which he created in 1992, the defendants “intentionally omitted any credit to [Louderback].” Instead, they plainly co-opted the image in furtherance of “a cruel and unjust” scheme that “was, and continues to be, undertaken with oppression, fraud and malice,” the artist asserts.

Louderback – whose work has been “shown in museums, galleries, and art fairs around the world, including MOCA in Los Angeles, Klosterfeld Gallery in Berlin, Frieze London, and the Sydney Opera House” – claims that as soon as he got wind of the FUCT x Richardson collab and the unauthorized use of his work, his counsel “promptly sent cease and desist letters to the defendants on June 11, 2019.”

While Richardson initially agreed to refrain from selling the allegedly infringing wares, Louderback claims that “Brunetti and FUCT never even hesitated.” In contrast, the complaint asserts that Brunetti “responded, both in text messages to and a letter from [his] counsel to [Louderback’s] counsel, [and] arrogantly refused to cancel or even postpone the upcoming sale of the infringing goods.”

Two days later, on June 13, Louderback claims that the allegedly infringing goods were being offered for sale on FUCT’s website, and sold out by the end of the day. “Based in part on industry practice,” Louderback asserts, “the defendants held back a number of the infringing goods, to sell later in the secondary market,” the complaint notes.

The issue goes back further than this summer’s FUCT x Richardson collaboration, according to the complaint. Louderback claims that this is not the first time that FUCT has made “unauthorized” use of his work, and asserts that FUCT has been “using and taking credit for [his Maneater] artwork for decades, with great success and acclaim.”

 Louderback’s Maneater (left) & FUCT x Richardson tee (right) Louderback’s Maneater (left) & FUCT x Richardson tee (right)

It turns out, Louderback and Brunetti were allegedly in cahoots in the beginning. In the early 1990s, Louderback “licensed his Maneater artwork [to FUCT to use] on one run of tee shirts – with the clear understanding that the permission was only for this limited use,” David Erikson, counsel for Louderback exclusively told TFL. “No one, including Brunettti, would have thought my client was assigning the copyright [in the Maneater work] for unlimited use, and there is absolutely no paperwork or relationship that would support that idea.”

Yet, “over the years,” Erikson continues, “Brunetti has freely used the Maneater artwork, and a lot of my client’s other original artwork, without permission. He even led the world to believe that he, not Richard, created the artwork.”

When asked by TFL why Louderback did not take copyright infringement action sooner, since he asserts that it has been routinely occurring over a matter of two decades, Erikson stated that while his client “made his complaints known [to Brunetti], he lacked the resources to bring a lawsuit, as Brunetti knew.”

The situation becomes more complicated, according to the complaint, given that Brunetti, “emboldened by his recent trademark victory at the United States Supreme Court,” allegedly told Louderback that FUCT’s lawyer [John Sommer] “is so fearsome that legal action would be fruitless,” the complaint states. Nonetheless, Louderback says “in spite of such warnings,” he is filing suit.

“When friends showed FUCT’s latest infringement to my client, it was the last straw,” says Erikson. (Assuming that Louderback’s counsel can establish that this alleged infringement is distinct from past instances for which the 3 year statute of limitations for copyright infringement has run, it is also the first time since the Supreme Court’s March decision in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. that Louderback can assert his rights via litigation, as he just received a copyright registration for his “Maneater” work in July, which is a prerequisite to filing suit).

With such “intentional, deliberate, willful, wanton [conduct in mind],” and the defendants’ alleged “intention of injuring [Louderback], and depriving [him] of his legal rights,” Louderback sets forth claims of copyright infringement and is seeking “all damages, including damages that [he] has sustained, or will sustain, as a result of the acts,” as well as injunctive relief, which would immediately and permanently bar the defendants from making, marketing, and selling the allegedly infringing wares.

Counsel for FUCT John Sommer and a rep for Richardson did not respond to TFL’s requests for comment. TFL will update this post if they provide a response, and when any filings on the merits are made by counsel for the defendants.

*The case is Richard Louderback v. Erik Brunetti, FUCT, Andrew Richardson, and Beatrix Felix LLC, 2:19-cv-06752 (C.D.Cal).