Virgil Abloh is being sued for copyright infringement for posting a photo of Bella Hadid. According to the complaint that Jawad Elatab filed in a New York federal court on Friday, the buzzy designer posted a photo of Hadid – toting a customized suitcase from a collaboration between his brand Off-White and Rimowa – to his Instagram account without paying to license the photo from the copyright-holding photographer or obtaining his “permission or consent to publish the photograph on [his] Instagram Story,” thereby giving rise to a copyright infringement dispute.
Elatab asserts in his complaint that Virgil Abloh – or better yet, Abloh’s corporate entity Canary Yellow LLC, which interestingly bears the name of a company that FUBU president Daymond John thought up back in 2003 – engaged in the “reproduction and public display of a copyrighted photograph of model Bella Hadid,” one that he took of the supermodel in New York in March. While Vogue and the Daily Mail appear to have licensed the image from Elatab (i.e., entered into a contract in which the photographer grants specific rights to another party to use his/her image(s) in a specific capacity in exchange for compensation) – by way of photo agency Backgrid, the same cannot be said for Abloh, according to the complaint.
The New York-based photographer claims that he has “at all times been the sole owner of all right, title and interest in and to the photograph, including the copyright thereto,” as the individual who took the photo. This means that he, as the copyright holder, has the exclusive right to display the image, and distribute copies of it to the public by sale or another form of transfer, such as licensing, among other things.
With that in mind, Elatab claims that “Canary Yellow is not, and has never been, licensed or otherwise authorized to reproduce, publicly display, distribute and/or use the photograph,” and by doing so, Abloh’s entity has “willfully, intentionally, and purposefully” run afoul of his rights.
In what is the latest case in an ever-growing list of similar lawsuits (nearly all of which have been filed by Richard P. Leibowitz, a New York-based attorney and apparent “copyright troll,” per Judge Denise Louise Cote of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York), Elatab – by way of his counsel … Leibowitz – sets forth a claim of copyright infringement and is seeking damages, including any profits that Abloh made in connection with the Instagram post, which essentially serves as a promotional campaign for Off-White luggage, or alternatively, up to $150,000 per work infringed plus attorney’s fees and full costs.
Meanwhile, Abloh, who is no stranger to claims of infringement, has recently come under fire for allegedly taking a bit too much “inspiration” from the branding of energy pill company Abacus, which artist and Kanye West collaborator Ryder Ripps created and says that he shared with Abloh in 2017 only to have the designer take elements of the branding and apply them to a collaboration with Kaleidoscope magazine a year later.
Counsel for Abloh told TFL that they cannot comment on ongoing legal matters.
*The case is Elatab v. Canary Yellow LLC, 1:19-cv-08114 (S.D.N.Y.).