MoMaCha Café vs. MoMA: 7 Most Epic Graphic Design & Illustration Battles for Copyright

Copyright cases between independent graphic designers and corporate companies are more often than you might suspect. And more often than not, designers are at the mercy of the companies they work for—unless they use contracts. Legal battles can be expensive, tiring and annoying. It helps to have your copyrights in check, your trademarks authorized and know the ins and outs of intellectual property rights. In the meantime, here are some of the most epic battles in copyright and trademark between designers and companies.

1. MoMaCha Café vs. the Museum of Modern Art

A new cafe in New York City called MoMaCha is being sued by the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). The museum complained that the Lower East Side cafe and art gallery is violating their trademark, causing “harm to its name, reputation, and goodwill.” The museum filed a cease-and-desist letter late March, before the cafe even opened to the public. But MoMaCha (whose tagline reads: “Mo’ Matcha, No Problem”) doesn’t see the problem. . “Do they want us not to exist?” the cafe’s owner Eric Cahan told Hyperallergic. “I can’t use Helvetica? It doesn’t make any sense.” Meanwhile, the MoMa’s lawsuit reads: “There is no question that Defendants are targeting the very visitors that frequent MoMA’s museum, stores, and restaurants,” and claims that the café is apparently “hoping to confuse them into believing that Defendants’ MoMaCha art gallery and café has some connection to MoMA, when there is none.”

2. Tuesday Bassen vs. Zara

Los Angeles illustrator Tuesday Bassen was first hired to illustrate patches for the clothing brand Zara, but her work was deemed “too simple” and her work was scrapped. That is, until Zara crafted very similar designs for patches on a jean jacket. “I decided to officially take action when I saw a design in person at the mall; nothing had been changed, there was no room for question,” Bassen told The Cut. “This was my artwork and something needed to be done about it. I had my lawyer send a letter to Zara, and while we were waiting for a response, several other stolen pieces of my artwork were discovered at Zara and its subsidiaries.”

I've been pretty quiet about this, until now. Over the past year, @zara has been copying my artwork (thanks to all that have tipped me off–it's been a lot of you). I had my lawyer contact Zara and they literally said I have no base because I'm an indie artist and they're a major corporation and that not enough people even know about me for it to matter. I plan to further press charges, but even to have a lawyer get this LETTER has cost me $2k so far. 〰 It sucks and it's super disheartening to have to spend basically all of my money, just to defend what is legally mine. ⚡ EDIT: Some of you are asking how you can help. Repost and tag them, on Twitter, on Insta, on Facebook. I don't want to have to burden any of you with the financial strain that comes with lawsuits.

A post shared by Tuesday Bassen (@tuesdaybassen) on Jul 19, 2016 at 5:57pm PDT

3. Revok vs. H&M

For the clothing brand H&M, there was not an issue to use the street art of Jason “Revok” Williams for their “New Routine” sportswear campign in March, as the brand didn’t ask the artist to use his work. The brand basically used Revok’s mural in Brooklyn as the backdrop for one of their ads without asking for the artist’s permission. He sent H&M a cease-and-desist letter, but H&M sued in return, which shocked the street art community and resulting in people boycotting the brand (the brand then dropped the lawsuit). H&M then released a statement, which read: “H&M respects the creativity and uniqueness of artists, no matter the medium. We should have acted differently in our approach to this matter. It was never our intention to set a precedent concerning public art or to influence the debate on the legality of street art,” and the company is “currently reaching out directly to the artist in question to come up with a solution.”

A post shared by @_revok_ on Oct 24, 2017 at 9:45am PDT

4. Hachim Bahous vs. Disney

The French graphic designer Hachim Bahous noticed that the retro-styled Solo: Star Wars Story teaser posters released by Disney in March were very similar to his own. “I am flattered that the quality of my work is recognized, but it is still pure and simple forgery,” wrote Hachim Bahous on Facebook in March. He designed the album covers for Sony Music France’s “Legacy Recordings” series back in 2-15, citing that the film visually plagiarized his style. “I have not been asked for my permission, I wish to be credited and paid for this work I have done for Sony!”

5. Olivier Debie vs. the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Belgian designer Olivier Debie sued the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Committee after demonstrating similarities in the design of the first version of the games’ logo with an emblem he designed for Théâtre de Liège years before. After the allegations, the Japanese committee scrapped the logo, and launched a public contest for a new one. They scrapped it after the Belgian graphic designer Olivier Debie filed a lawsuit that the Olympics used his design. At a press conference shortly afterwards, “We’re certain the two logos are different but we became aware of new things this weekend and there was a sense of crisis that we thought could not be ignored,” said Tokyo 2020 Olympics CEO, Toshiro Muto in a press conference in Tokyo.

6. Shephard Fairey vs. The Associated Press

The famed Los Angeles street artist Shephard Fairey created the “Hope” campaign poster for Barack Obama in 2008, but faced backlash when the Associated Press said it was based on one of their photos, shot by freelance photographer Mannie Garcia. AP demanded compensation used in Fairey’s work. After a two year legal battle, they came to a private settlement.

7. Modern Dog Design vs. Target

The Seattle design studio Modern Dog Design created a series of dog sketches for their 2008 book by Chronicle Books, but The design firm claims that Target saw their book and apparently stole their cartoonish image of dogs from their book and used it on a t-shirt. Modern Dog had to sell their studio to cover the legal fees with this ongoing battle, but they felt it was a priority for them to defend their designs.

Many graphic designers confuse copyrights, trademarks and design patents. Moreover, some well-entrenched rules of thumb are mere myths that—if followed—can get you into legal trouble.

In this course, William M. Borchard will teach you what intellectual property rights are, how you can protect your design work, how you might be infringing the design rights of another, to what extent you can use another’s designs, and practical steps you should take for protection and to avoid infringement. 

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