Artist Yoshitomo Nara Sued by Cosmetics Company Over Authorship of Design

Nara sent a letter of complaint first, but now the company is suing him instead.

M.Lab's 'W-Honey Beam Cushion,' which Yoshitomo has accused of
M.Lab's 'W-Honey Beam Cushion,' which Yoshitomo has accused of "crossing the line of mere resemblance" to his work. Image courtesy Korea Department Store.

When the artist Yoshitomo Nara sent a letter of complaint against the Korean cosmetic company W.Lab last week over the striking similarities between his own work and the image on the company’s W-Honey Beam Cushion makeup compact, he thought that the company would recall and destroy the product, give him the requested monetary compensation, and quietly settle the matter out of court.

Not so. Instead, ArtAsiaPacific reports, W.Lab has responded by filing a lawsuit against Nara claiming authorship over the design, arguing that the “bee girl” cartoon was created independently by its internal design team and that Nara has no right to claim compensation.

Yoshitomo Nara talking to the media in 2015. Photo courtesy Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

Yoshitomo Nara talking to the media in 2015. Photo courtesy Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images.

“I thought this crossed the line of mere resemblance. While I’ve turned a blind eye to small works and signboards that contain slight copies [of my works], I thought this one was pretty severe, so I sent the company a letter of warning. I was expecting them to revise the image and not have them go to court over it, but instead, the company filed a counter-claim, saying ‘they were the author of the work’, and ‘Nara has no right to claim restitution’. I’ll be corresponding with them in consultation with a copyright lawyer,” Nara said, according to RocketNews24.

Other products by W.Lab, like the 3D Face Stick, come in cutesy packaging with cartoons in a similar style, but different enough that coincidental similarity seems plausible.

It is relevant to note as well that packaging for another product by W.Lab, the All-Clear Mint Pack, bears a striking resemblance to the signature packaging of cosmetics company Lush, with white, handwriting-like, all-capital lettering on a black tub, with the product description in a more readable block typeface.

Left: Yoshitomo Nara, Walk On (2010). Courtesy Artificial Gallery. Right: M.Lab's 'W-Honey Beam Cushion,' which Yoshitomo has accused of "crossing the line of mere resemblance" to his work. Image courtesy Korea Department Store.

Left: Yoshitomo Nara, Walk On (2010). Courtesy Artificial Gallery. Right: M.Lab’s ‘W-Honey Beam Cushion,’ which Yoshitomo has accused of “crossing the line of mere resemblance” to his work. Image courtesy Korea Department Store.

But the bean-shaped face adorning the W-Honey Beam Cushion—with its large, glaring eyes, simple two-dot nose, and tiny frown—is eerily close to Nara’s signature Neo Pop style of angsty, cartoon children with oblong heads, which he has been developing for decades to international acclaim.

The suit is especially disheartening, as Nara claims he was motivated not by money, but by the importance of standing up for the rights of artists and designers. Time will tell if W.Lab’s bee-behatted drawing, no matter how adorable, will hold up in court as an original, non-derivative design.


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