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Counterfeit Logos and Fine Art

The law continues to grapple with counterfeit fashion. What Intellectual Property rights or other legal rights can fashion houses wield against those who appropriate their logos and designs? Last week, major fashion house Chanel filed a lawsuit for cyberpiracy and trademark infringement against 399 internet retailers that were selling counterfeit items under its name.

However, many cases are not so straightforward. Photographer Luis Gispert has explored an interesting subculture in which individuals appropriate trademarks of high-end fashion designers to creatively customize their own belongings. Gispert went around the United States, photographing individuals who had taken counterfeit designer materials and had used them to revamp automobile interiors, clothes, and house wares, amongst other items. This month, Canal Street and dodgy websites aren’t be the only places where New Yorkers can go get their counterfeit fixes. An exhibit of Gispert’s works opened at the Mary Boone Gallery on September 8, 2011 and will run through October 22, 2011. A press release from the gallery describes Gispert’s subjects as “end products of a cultural history.”

The artist told the Daily Beast his subjects do appropriate materials and actual logos, but they do not try to mimic the original fashions. “The knockoff fashion culture brings the inaccessibility of major luxury brands to the masses, and the results are often nothing like what the original designers intended,” argues one writer at the Huffington Post.

According to NY Magazine, Gispert never discussed the legality of the creations with his subjects. Their creations were “very involved and personal. The level of obsessiveness that goes into making this stuff — especially the cars — is really extreme, I would argue at the same level as that of an artist.” But these cultural symbols are also trademarks, and even artistic expression must be balanced with the rights of trademark owners.