Photographer’s Potential Copyright Infringement Claim Leads to Summer Camp for Kids

BY: DANIELLE MEEKS

Brandon Stanton runs Humans of New York, a website dedicated to creating a photographic census of New York City, providing glimpses into the lives of complete strangers through quotes and short stories from the subjects.[1. About, Humans of New York, http://www.humansofnewyork.com/about (last visited Mar. 21, 2013).] With over 300,000 followers on Facebook and Tumblr, Stanton’s photography is well known to many.[2. Id.]  In fact, it has become so popular that established clothing label DKNY approached Stanton, offering him $15,000 to use 300 of his photographs for their “Only in NYC” campaign. [3. Brandon Stanton, I Am a Street Photographer in New York City, Humans of New York (Feb. 25, 2013), http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/43997717109/.]  Stanton declined, after receiving advice from a friend that $50 per photograph was far too little from a company with millions of dollars of revenue.[4. Id.]  DKNY is a subsidiary of LVMH, a luxury goods conglomerate based in France, owning many well known names in the wines and spirits, fashion, and cosmetics industries.[5. About Donna, Donna Karan Company, http://www.donnakaran.com/_pages/company/3c1289ec-8f7c-4608-bc47-68ce68717268/about-donna (last visited Mar. 21, 2013).]

One of Stanton’s fans sent him a photograph of a DKNY store window in Bangkok, Thailand that launched this latest controversy.[6. Brandon Stanton, I Am a Street Photographer in New York City, Humans of New York (Feb. 25, 2013), http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/43997717109/.]  Stanton’s photographs were featured in the display, not only without his authorization, but against his wishes.[7. Id.]  Stanton expressed on his blog that he is not interested in taking legal action, despite his clear copyright infringement case, but instead was interested in DKNY donating $100,000 to the Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA in Brooklyn.[8. Id.]  The DKNY legal team responded that the use of the photographs was an error and that the Bangkok store had somehow used a mock-up that was only intended for internal use.[9. Jen Carlson, DKNY Caught Using Photographer’s Images Without Permission Or Compensation, Gothamist (Feb. 25, 2013, 11:07 AM), http://gothamist.com/2013/02/25/dkny_uses_photographers_images_with.php. ]  As retribution, they made a $25,000 donation to the Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA in Brandon Stanton’s name.[10. Id.]

While this may have been an unintentional error on the part of DKNY, stories that deal with large multimillion dollar companies taking the creative works of smaller artists are very attention grabbing, with the public rooting for the underdog.  The positive outcome of this story is unfortunately not as common.  Stanton has used this opportunity and heightened awareness to start a campaign for $75,000 to make a full $100,000 donation to the YMCA to provide 300 children with two weeks of summer camp.[1. Let’s Send Kids To YMCA Summer Camp, Indiegogo, http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/let-s-send-kids-to-ymca-summer-camp (last visited Mar. 21, 2013).]  Stanton was determined to spin what could have been a tenuous legal battle over copyright infringement into an opportunity for disadvantaged youth to have memorable summer, as well as using his current platform on social media to bring attention to charitable causes.   The unfortunate situation has led to a very uplifting conclusion in the face of a clear violation of his creative rights.  Stanton wrote on his blog, “In ten years, I don’t want to look back on this week as some sort of missed opportunity. I’d rather remember it as that time we took something negative and used it as an excuse to send a bunch of kids to summer camp— who otherwise would not have had the resources to go.”[12. Brandon Stanton, I Know So Many of You Feel Strongly on This Matter…, Humans of New York (Feb. 26, 2013), http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/44097914805.]  With the campaign has now closed, making well above the $75,000 goal and a little over Stanton’s original proposal for $100,000 – cashing out at a total of $103,710,[13. Let’s Send Kids To YMCA Summer Camp, Indiegogo, http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/let-s-send-kids-to-ymca-summer-camp (last visited Mar. 21, 2013).]  it looks as though Stanton will be able to do just that.

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