AholSniffsGlue is one of the Magic City's quintessential street artists, widely known for his trademark droopy eyes that keep watch over Wynwood at NW 27th Street and peer down on I-95 traffic outside the Margulies Collection.
So when American Eagle Outfitters descended on Wynwood earlier this year to package its 2014 spring break advertising with a distinct urban vibe, it's no shock it latched onto his attention-grabbing imagery. The company, which earned more than $3 billion last year, began using Ahol's work on its web pages, billboards, and in-store displays as part of a sweeping international blitz.
The problem, according to Ahol, is that the retailer never asked his permission or paid him for plastering his work on its ads. So last week, Ahol, whose real name is David Anasagasti, sued the retail giant in the U.S. District Court of New York for unlawful infringement of his intellectual property, in what could prove a landmark case for the rights of artists.
AholSniffsGlue Sues American Eagle for Stealing His Trademark Graffiti Images
Wynwood, which has become world-renowned as an outdoor museum for its collection of murals, attracts photographers and filmmakers daily. Many photographers ask permission beforehand and pay artists a licensing fee.
But that's not always the case, as reflected by Ahol's suit. One of the images American Eagle used on billboards depicts a male model leapfrogging a fire hydrant in front of Ahol's mural Ocean Grown on NW 27th Street. The image, the suit alleges, was plastered everywhere from a billboard at Houston Street and Broadway in New York City to in-store displays worldwide, the company's Facebook page, Instagram, YouTube, and storefronts from Colombia to Japan.
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During a recent store opening in Medellín, Colombia, American Eagle allegedly hired three local artists to re-create another of Ahol's works on an eight-foot wooden panel, layering the company's logo over the iconic eyeballs for added impact.
Ahol declined to comment while the case is in litigation, but other artists are watching it closely.
"This should be very worrisome to Miami's citizens," says Babacar M'Bow, the recently appointed director of North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art. "American Eagle has acted crassly and, not unlike their logo, swooped down on a respected Miami artist with predatory intent."
American Eagle Outfitters did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.