Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 are not strangers to lawsuits claiming they’ve stolen designs or elements of designs from others in order to make sales: from textile designs to ornaments. Now, the two retailers are facing a lawsuit together, after a celebrity photographer claimed the companies illegally used photographs he took of Tupac Shakur on T-shirts.
Photographer Danny Clinch filed the lawsuit [PDF] Thursday in federal court in New York, accusing the two retailers, along with T-shirt makers, Bioworld Merchandising and Planet Productions, and Amaru/AWA Merchandising, the company in charge of licensing Tupac merchandise, of copyright infringement for using his photos of the late rapper without permission.
The photos, which were featured in a profile of the rapper in Rolling Stone magazine in 1993 and then again on the magazine’s cover in 1996, were copyrighted by Clinch in 2002, giving him sole discretion on when the picture could be used.
Despite this, the lawsuit claims that Amaru entered into a license agreement with Planet in 2012 that purported to allow Planet the use of photographs of Tupac, including those copyrighted by Clinch.
The agreement claimed that Amaru had been granted license to use the photos by each individual photo copyright holder. However, Clinch claims that didn’t occur.
From here, Planet authorized Bioworld to produce apparel using the images, including T-shirts designated as “Me Against the World,” “All Eyez on Me,’ “Sublimation Tupac,” “Heads Up,” and “Tupac Photo OO.”
As part of the distribution plan for the shirts, Bioworld and Planet sold the infringing T-shirts to Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, the lawsuit claims.
“Defendants, without the authorization, knowledge or consent of the plaintiff, deliberately and willfully copied, displayed, distributed, and sold the copyrighted photographs on such infringing T-shirts and perhaps other apparel,” the suit sates.
The suit claims that each of the defendants earned substantial profits from the sale of the T-shirt and the licensing agreements that were entered into.
As a result of the “deliberate infringements” of the photo’s copyright, Clinch is seeking $600,000 in damages, the destruction of remaining inventory of T-shirts, and an order prohibiting the companies from further use of the copyrighted image.