dkny, photo theft, humans of new york

Window shot of the DKNY store in Bangkok. Photo courtesy of

Recently, there have been several high-profile instances of unauthorized photo/intellectual property … um, use. The most recent incident is making the rounds of The Facebook this week. DKNY “inadvertently” used 300 photos from New York Street Photographer Brandon Stanton aka Humans of New York without licensing or permission.

This incident has a happy ending for a bunch of kids in New York City, but underscores the need for vigilance as the internet gets larger, the world gets smaller and the photographic community gets tighter.

This latest incident follows another recent high-profile clothing designer, Mango Fashion, who created a T-Shirt using a photo taken off Instagram and used without the artist’s, Tuana Aziz, permission. The shirt has since been removed for sale. You can read the original story here on High-profile photography IP theft seems to be occurring with greater frequency.

Several months ago, Brandon was approached by a representative of DKNY who asked to purchase 300 of my photos to hang in their store windows “around the world.” He was offered $15,000 —  about $50 per photo. Given the size and revenue of DKNY, Brandon asked for more money. They declined and Brandon declined to license his photos.

But, it’s a small world out there. His images showed up in the DKNY store in Bangkok. Brandon was sent a snapshot.

“The window is full of my photos,” says Brandon. “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.”

Shortly after the original post on Humans of New York, DKNY posted this announcement, via Facebook:

Since its founding in 1989, DKNY has been inspired by and incorporated authentic New York into its imagery. For our Spring 2013 store window visuals we decided to celebrate the city that is in our name by showcasing “Only in NYC” images. We have immense respect for Brandon Stanton aka Humans of New York and approached him to work with us on this visual program. He declined to participate in the project.

For the Spring 2013 windows program, we licensed and paid for photos from established photography service providers. However, it appears that inadvertently the store in Bangkok used an internal mock up containing some of Mr. Stanton’s images that was intended to merely show the direction of the spring visual program. We apologize for this error and are working to ensure that only the approved artwork is used.

DKNY has always supported the arts and we deeply regret this mistake. Accordingly, we are making a charitable donation of $25,000 to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn in Mr. Stanton’s name.

$25,000 works out to about $83 per photo — not a bad chunk of change but far short of the $100,000 donation requested by Mr. Stanton.

Regarding the donation, Brandon responded:

“$25k will help a lot of kids at the YMCA. I know a lot of you would like to have seen the full $100k, but we are going to take them at their word that it was a mistake, and be happy that this one had a happy ending.”

At first, this seems to be a case of “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission,” an attitude that pervades many graphic designers, hoping they don’t get caught using other artists’ work.

I’ll also take DKNY at their word here, although begrudgingly. I can’t help think that somewhere someone let this slip through, hoping that they wouldn’t get caught. I also can’t help but wonder how many other stores are/were displaying his work that haven’t gotten back to the photographer yet.

I also can’t help but wonder how forgiving DKNY would have been had the situation been reversed and 300 unique items from their intellectual property were used without their consent.

In the end, DKNY did a right thing by donating a good bit of money to this charity. Kudos to DKNY for the gesture.

To check if your photographs have been used without your consent, look into to help discover unauthorized usage. They offer several plans for use and recovery, starting with a basic free plan all the way up to $995 per year.

With the ease that usable copies of photographs can be lifted from Flickr, Facebook and other websites, it’s increasingly important for artists to protect their work.

You Can Help City Kids Go To Summer Camp

Brandon Stanton has since added this post to Humans of New York blog and Facebook page:

As most of you already know, yesterday I discovered that a large amount of my photographs were used without permission by DKNY in a Bangkok window display.

In response, I publicly asked DKNY to make a $100,000 donation in my name to the Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA, so that deserving kids could go to Summer Camp.

They made a $25,000 donation in my name. That really made me happy. I went to bed last night thinking about all the kids who’d be going to summer camp.

But then I started thinking about the kids who wouldn’t be going to summer camp. And I thought: “You know what, wouldn’t it be awesome (and fun) if we made a $75,000 donation?” That way, a bunch more kids could go to summer camp!

So help HONY make a $75,000 donation to the YMCA. That would bring the grand total to $100,000 and provide 300 deserving kids with an entire two weeks of summer camp. These camps give kids such a wonderful, affirming experience. For certain kids, from certain neighborhoods, it could very well be the best two weeks of their life.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford to give goodies this time. Our Hurricane Sandy Fundraiser tapped me out. But I think there’s enough heart in this group to raise the full $75,000. I’m really counting pennies right now, but I’m going to throw in $100 myself.

LET’S DO THIS: Click here for the “Let’s Send Kids To YMCA Summer Camp” Indiegogo campaign.This campaign will receive all of the funds contributed by Fri 01 Mar 11:59PM PT.

And please share this post with your friends.


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