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DKNY stole hundreds of photos from Humans of New York

HONY was lucky enough to have the support of thousands of devoted fans. For an up-and-coming artist, fighting copyright violations is much more difficult.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Street-photography Tumblr blog Humans of New York (HONY) has a fanbase that extends far beyond its native NYC. HONY’s readership is enthusiastic enough to have set up copycat sites from Sydney to Tel Aviv, although the New York branch still remains the most popular, with more than half a million Facebook likes and countless followers on Tumblr. Last year, the blog’s online clout even netted $85,000 in disaster relief donations during Hurricane Sandy

According to a post made to HONY’s site today, HONY’s editor, photographer Brandon Stanton, was approached by a representative from the fashion label DKNY. The label offered him $15,000 to use 300 HONY photographs in an international ad campaign, but Stanton declined on the grounds that the price was unacceptable for a multimillion-dollar project. 

Rather than negotiating, DKNY went ahead and used the photos without permission or payment. 

On his Facebook page, Stanton wrote:

Today, a fan sent me a photo from a DKNY store in Bangkok. The window is full of my photos. These photos were used without my knowledge, and without compensation.

I don’t want any money. But please REBLOG this post if you think that DKNY should donate $100,000 on my behalf to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. That donation would sure help a lot of deserving kids go to summer camp.

The post spread rapidly across social media and was shared more than 30,000 times on Facebook alone. Just four hours after the original statement showed up on HONY’s page, DKNY replied with an apology, stating that the Bangkok store had mistakenly used an internal mock-up of the advertising campaign, and that $25,000 would be donated to the charity suggested by Stanton. 

DKNY’s speedy capitulation is proof that in situations like this, a vocal online fanbase is an easy way of avoiding a difficult legal battle. This is just the latest in a series of plagiarism accusations between Internet-based artists and mainstream fashion labels. Recently, Etsy user Stevie Koerner claimed Urban Outfitters stole her jewelry designs. Tumblr artist Kelly Bastow found her illustration on a Forever 21 T-shirt; the brand blamed its vendors for the mixup.

Luckily, Humans of New York had the power of hundreds of thousands of devoted fans behind it. For an up-and-coming artist or photoblogger, fighting copyright violations is much more difficult.

Photo by Humans of New York

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