Theft is a crime and against the law. Persistent theft can be punishable by a custodial sentence. But is theft always a clear cut case? There seems to be a culture of free for all theft in commercial business when it comes to artwork, innovative product designs, or other types of creative work, which is seen differently from the standard theft of physical items such as stealing wallets, watches, or luxury goods, for example. This is known as the theft of intellectual property (IP). Many describe it as “infringement” but isn’t this just a sanitised word for theft?
Banksy is hot in the news in terms of IP, and not for the first time. The GUESS clothing brand has announced they are selling items of clothing and accessories with Banksy’s artwork prints. There are reports this is licensed material, due to an agreement with their partners, Brandalised. However, Banksy disagrees.
The furor became news after Banksy posted to his 11.8M followers asking shoppers to steal from Guess.
Banksy said, “Attention all shoplifters. Please go to GUESS on Regent Street. They’ve helped themselves to my artwork without asking, how can it be wrong for you to do the same to their clothes?”
The PAPER Magazine reported that ARTNews stated, Guess’ Chief Creative Officer, Paul Marciano, had previously said ‘the collection…a reflection of the artist’s impact, saying in a press release that “the graffiti of Banksy has had a phenomenal influence that resonates throughout popular culture.”
Marciano also feels the collection is a way for fashion to show its gratitude to Banksy’s cultural impact. But there are serious questions arising from Guess’s open feelings on using an artist’s work who is clearly unhappy with its commercialisation. Marciano’s comment is not far off alluding to the myth that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. However, ACID CEO Dids Macdonald famously noted, “Imitation isn’t flattery. If it costs you your business, it’s theft.”
Dids Macdonald, OBE., CEO of Anti Copying in Design further commented, “Banksy’s bold anti copying message has forced GUESS to experience the consequences of “Do unto others as you would have done to you”. Hopefully, reputational damage has forced GUESS to reflect on its IP ethics, compliance and respect. Brands small or large must realise the basics of IP ownership. You need permission to use it (and pay for it), you can’t just steal it however much you are trying “to resonate popular culture.”
Banksy has publicly stated on numerous occasions he does not want his work to be commercialised. Therefore this kind of blatant disregard for his wishes not only profits from his artwork but destroys his public image. As his artistic persona is based on making societal and political commentary, businesses profiteering from his art is in contradiction to his values and artwork in general.
Banksy has experienced other IP issues in the past. Most recently he has won his appeal with the EUIPO to trademark his ‘Monkey Signs’ work. Beforehand, though, he lost on a case against greeting card company Full Colour Black, who reproduced his famous Flower Thrower image. The case was lost based on the fact Banksy wishes to stay anonymous and therefore he could not be identified as the owner of his works, concluded EUIPO.
Although we would never condone shoplifting, Banksy’s extreme response has highlighted a very real discussion which should be explored and stay in popular dialogue. Why can big-name brands and businesses steal the intellectual property of artists and designers? Is it not the same form of stealing as Banksy suggested to his followers?
With ACID’s 25 years of experience supporting designers and businesses with IP cases, we can wholeheartedly confirm the impact of IP theft is just as soul-destroying as any other kind of theft. It can and has caused businesses to fold, creativity to whither, and is detrimental to physical and mental health.
If you would like to support our campaign to stand up for ethics, respect, and compliance in the design industry, you can sign our ACID IP Charter here.
Image credit: Banksy’s Instagram