Kaws Holiday

KAWS awarded $900,000 in counterfeit lawsuit

American artist and designer Bryan Donnelly, known as KAWS, has won close to $1 million in damages after he filed a lawsuit against Dylan Joy An Leong Yi Zhi, a Singaporean who has been creating knockoffs of his signature works of art.

KAWS is a hugely popular designer who creates toys and collectibles in a distinctive signature style. After working as an animator for Disney, KAWS began creating sets of characters that he called “Companions”. They first appeared in his graffiti works across New York in the 1990s, before he turned to creating three-dimensional versions. In 2019, his The KAWS Album (2005) sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $14.8 million, setting a record for the artist. He has stated Gerhard Richter, Claes Oldenburg, and Chuck Close as his influences and has been compared to Andy Warhol in his ability to appeal to a wide audience.

KAWS filed the lawsuit against Leong in 2021, although he had sent numerous cease-and-desist orders prior to this. The lawsuit accused Leong of reproducing KAWS works on 154 items, including dolls, figurines, ashtrays, skateboards, posters, sculptures, rugs and more. Leong’s goods were sold for between $59 and $3,299 and the total retail price on the items exceeded $63 million. The websites which sold these goods described them as “custom hand-reworked reproductions.”

The US Southern District Court of New York ordered Leong and two companies associated with him to stop selling the items, and the $900,000 the Court awarded KAWS was meant to offset “the effect that [Leong’s] counterfeiting has upon the market for plaintiff’s goods, including the dilution of the products’ distinctiveness and disruption in the market for KAWS goods”. KAWS said that the sale of these replicas “damages his reputation among the buying public and art aficionados,” and can even “chill the market for his original work because purchasers fear inadvertently acquiring a counterfeit”.

Both The Art Newspaper and Artnet News approached Leong’s lawyer for a comment, but did not immediate receive a response. KAWS’s lawyer, Aaron Richard Golub, informed Artnet News that the artist intends next to seek a judgement against Jonathan Anand who is another defendant in the case. KAWS spends in excess of $40,000 each year identifying replicas and issuing takedown orders

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