A New York City graffiti artist collective is threatening to sue McDonald’s for unauthorised use of their work in a Dutch advertising campaign.
Images of street art by the Bushwick Collective appeared in a video entitled “McDonald’s Presents the Vibe of Bushwick NY” promoting the fast food mega-chain’s latest addition to its menu, the ‘New York Bagel Supreme’. The four-minute video features six graffiti artists from the Collective hired by McDonald’s to paint its new bagel burger in various locations around the Netherlands.
However, it also includes footage of street art murals in Bushwick created by other artists in the Collective whose filming permission was not sought. Instead, McDonald’s appears to have sought permission from the owners of the buildings on which the street art is painted.
Artists Virus, NDA, Atomik, Don Rimx, Beau Stanton and Himbad allege that the restaurant giant infringed their copyright and falsely suggested it had secured their endorsement. They are claiming profits that McDonald’s derived from using their work without their consent and compensation for damages to their work and reputation.
Lawyer for the street artists, Andrew Gerber, conveyed their frustration at the false association created by the McDonald’s campaign. “The case hinges on the perception that they are somehow affiliated with or involved with this product and that they are endorsing McDonald’s, when they absolutely are not”, Gerber stated.
On the contrary, according to a statement issued by Gerber’s law firm, the artists regard the restaurant as “antithetical to their own values”. They resent the association with a global corporation they believe has negatively impacted economic and social conditions in the Bushwick neighbourhood and driven the obesity epidemic.
Gerber expressed astonishment that corporations considered it acceptable to feature street art in product advertising without seeking the artists’ consent simply because their work appeared outdoors and not on a gallery wall. “It’s frustrating that it should still be a novel issue that posing in front of an artwork for a commercial product is unlawful… we should be strengthening legal protections for artists in order to encourage public artworks”, he said.
McDonald’s has removed the promotional video from the internet but has not responded to requests for comment.
The fast food chain’s latest brush with the law comes mere months after it was slapped with a lawsuit by the estate of graffiti artist Dashiell ‘Dash’ Snow in December 2016. Lawyers for ‘Secret Snow’ allege McDonald’s infringed the artist’s copyright when it used an image from his work to decorate the interior of its graffiti-themed restaurants including one in South London.
Who owns street art? Our art law experts Tim Maxwell and Becky Shaw explain here.