Dash Snow’s Family Sues McDonald’s for Copyright Infringement

The lawsuit claims that any association with McDonald's will diminish the value of the late artist's work.

Dash Snow at Mary Boone Gallery, April 2009. ©Patrick McMullan Photoby David Prutting/PatrickMcMullan.com
Dash Snow at Mary Boone Gallery, April 2009. ©Patrick McMullan Photo by David Prutting/PatrickMcMullan.com.

The estate of the late artist Dash Snow is fighting to protect his legacy against the dreaded label of “sellout.” Jade Berreau, the late artist’s former girlfriend and current estate manager, is suing McDonald’s for copying Snow’s graffiti tag, and using it to decorate a number of restaurants without permission.

In June 2016, Burreau first asked McDonald’s to remove Snow’s recognizable graffiti tag, “SACE,” from the locations that had been redesigned in the graffiti-covered, industrial theme, to no avail. Burreau is now formally suing McDonald’s for “copyright infringement, trademark infringement, unfair competition, falsification of ‘copyright management information’ under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and negligence,” reports the Fashion Law.

Left: Dash Snow's SACE tag. Right: fake graffiti decoration inside a McDonald's. Image: the Fashion Law/case BERREAU v. MCDONALD'S CORPORATION ET AL, 2:16-cv-07394.

Left: Dash Snow’s SACE tag. Right: fake graffiti decoration inside a McDonald’s. Image: the Fashion Law/case BERREAU v. MCDONALD’S CORPORATION ET AL, 2:16-cv-07394.

The artist, who died in 2009 at the age of 27, began his career as a street artist in the 1990s, part of a graffiti crew known as IRAK. In a memorial essay, photographer Ryan McGinley wrote that Snow was “number one on the vandal-squad’s most wanted list,” tagging ambitious locations like New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and High Line, and even paying homeless people $20 to tag the clothes on their backs.

In the McDonald’s in question, the lawsuit claims, the appropriated “SACE” tag is “so prominently placed,” and “was the only element singled out and spotlighted in media coverage surrounding McDonald’s display campaign.” The plaintiff claims that media coverage implied that Snow authorized the use of his work on the walls of the corporate chain.

Unsurprisingly, Snow, although born into a privileged life, took an anti-commercial stance, and it is safe to assume that he would never have aligned himself with a brand like McDonald’s.

“He has never made his original art available on the internet, in retail stores, or in restaurants—partly for artistic reasons but also because doing so would diminish the value of his work. Nothing is more antithetical to Mr. Snow’s outsider ‘street cred’ than association with corporate consumerism—of which McDonald’s and its marketing are the epitome,” the lawsuit continues.

Back in March, a refurbished McDonald’s in the gentrifying district of Brixton, South London generated controversy for the questionable graffiti-covered décor. Locals took to Twitter to vent their frustration about the “edgy” designs. One twitter user, @bernehxoxo, replied to a tweet from the Evening Standard, “stoked about the sace throw! Rip”. Needless to say, SACE’s family is not so “stoked.”

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