Artists Fight Back After McDonald's Co-Opts Their Work

The chain used shots of their murals for a promotional video. 

bushwick graffiti
Photo: © palinchakjr / Getty Images

A group of street artists is threatening McDonald’s with legal action after the chain featured shots of their art work in a recent promotional video.

The video, called “McDonald’s Presents the Vibe of Bushwick NY,” was intended to advertise the fast food chain’s New York Bagel Supreme in the Netherlands, where the new sandwich is making it’s debut.

It’s since been removed by McDonald’s from all its associated sites online (you can still watch it here) but Artnet reports that the video featured shots of some epic street art created by the Bushwick Collective. The video also features an interview with Joe Ficalora, the Collective’s “curator,” which suggests some level of cooperation between the artists and McDonald’s.

Ficalora drives the cameras around the neighborhood, showing off many of the murals created by members of the Collective. But many, including Don Rimx, Beau Stanton, Virus, NDA, Atomik, and Himbad, are coming forward to insist that they did not give consent to having their work be included in the video, and now they're threatening to hit McDonald’s with a lawsuit over “copyright infringement, false endorsement, damages to their work and reputation, and profits from unauthorized use of their artwork.”

“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,” their attorney, Andrew Gerber told Artnet.

According to Gerber, McDonald’s contacted the building owners where the art appears, but not the artists themselves. He explained that it doesn’t matter if McDonald’s sought permission from the buildings, because the artists themselves still hold copyright over their work (unless they transfer it over to the building owners in written form, which none of these did).

Although Ficalora was clearly hired by McDonald’s, Gerber maintains that “most of the artists who were featured in the video were not asked permission and were not contacted by McDonald’s.”

Gerber is familiar with big companies using the work of artists and has represented many of them whose work has been co-opted, including Lili Chin, who filed a $1 million copyright suit against Kohl’s.

As for the McDonald's case he told Food & Wine, '“They could have reached out to the artist and negotiated licenses directly. They were concerned with one type of license but flagrantly ignorant of another type.”

If the case moves forward it could be a signal to giants like McDonald’s that they can’t step on the little people without facing serious consequences. And even if it doesn’t gain traction, they’ve already received a stern message: Art trumps bagel burgers.

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