KAWS Has Won a Key Victory in His Lawsuit Against a Singapore Counterfeiter Churning Out Knockoffs of His Toys and Art

KAWS won $900,000 in damages.

The artist Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS, unveils his new sculpture SHARE at Rockefeller Center in New York. The 18-foot-tall bronze figure features two of the artist's iconic motifs, "COMPANION" and "BFF." Photo by Diane Bondareff, courtesy of AP Images for Tishman Speyer.

Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS, has scored a major legal victory against a man who he accused of counterfeiting, with others, replicas of the artist’s signature “Companion” figure and other toys, skateboards, and artworks.

On May 2, a U.S. District Court awarded KAWS $900,000 in damages and ordered Dylan Joy An Leong Yi Zhi and two associated companies in Singapore named the Penthouse Theory and the Penthouse Collective to stop producing the knockoffs. 

The award is intended to punish Leong, who “knowingly intended to sell counterfeit KAWS goods,” according to the ruling, and account for “the effect that the counterfeiting has upon the market for KAWS goods, including the dilution of the products’ distinctiveness and disruption in the market.”

KAWS attorney Aaron Richard Golub called it “a very important international case,” telling Artnet News that with respect to Leong and his companies were making 154 variations of KAWS products. Singapore, which operates under a common law system, recognizes and enforces U.S. court decisions, he said. “We’re now able to enforce this judgment around the world.”

Detail of KAWS, Tide (2020). (Photo by Ben Davis)

Detail of KAWS, Tide (2020). Photo by Ben Davis.

Leong’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Golub said he will next seek a judgment against one of the other defendants in the case, Jonathan Anand. Anand’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment, and an attorney for a third defendant, David Kang, declined to answer questions from Artnet News.

KAWS and his legal team had been sending cease-and-decease letters and takedown notices since in 2020. The knockoff website described its KAWS products as “hand-reworked reproductions,” available at low prices.

KAWS, The KAWS Album [detail]. (Photo by Ben Davis)

KAWS, The KAWS Album [detail]. Photo by Ben Davis.

Over the years, KAWS has developed a huge global following for his toys and collectibles. Some of the most popular items include the gray figure known as “Companion” and riffs on famous Sesame Street and Simpsons characters with the artist’s signature X’ed out eyes. He has also collaborated with retailer Uniqlo on clothing priced less than $50.

At auction, the artist’s The KAWS Album (2005) sold for a record $14.8 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019. To date, a total of 38 KAWS works have sold for more than $1 million each at auction.

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