Following Kendall & Kylie Jenner’s latest controversial misstep – screen printing their faces on “vintage” t-shirts from bands and rappers then selling them for $125 – I spent some time thinking about how artists can protect their legacy once they are gone, or even when they are still here.
The Jenner sisters’ collection of t-shirts featured artists like Tupac Shakur & Biggie Smalls, both deceased, and bands like Pink Floyd. Biggie Smalls’ mother, Voletta Wallace spoke out against the t-shirt in an Instagram post, calling it “exploitation” and “disrespectful”, and mentioned the key point that the sisters nor their teams reached out to her or anybody connected to Biggie’s estate to check if it was actually ok for them to use his image. Sharon Osbourne, wife of Ozzy (who was featured on one of the t-shirts), said that the girls hadn’t “earned the right” to put their faces with icons. The t-shirts were pulled from their website the day of the launch and Kendall & Kylie both issued an apology online.
I am not sure who told @kyliejenner and @kendalljenner that they had the right to do this. The disrespect of these girls to not even reach out to me or anyone connected to the estate baffles me. I have no idea why they feel they can exploit the deaths of 2pac and my Son Christopher to sell a t-shirt. This is disrespectful , disgusting, and exploitation at its worst!!!
I think it was pretty clear for everyone to see that the Jenners were in the wrong in this situation. It was a blatant money-making scheme which they hadn’t any business being involved in. However, someone approved it and for some reason it was released to the public. I think after receiving such harsh criticism from so many prominent figures will resonate with them. However, they are not the only people to ever use someone’s image without their permission. In fact, tour merchandise especially is often replicated.
Forever 21 and Kanye West had issues in 2016 when they copied the Pablo merch almost exactly. Justin Bieber teamed up with H&M to make a capsule collection of “Purpose” merch. It was a strange but apt collaboration given that H&M continually sell unofficial band merchandise, from Guns N’ Roses and Metallica. Then I also wonder how Metallica felt when Kanye West reused their famous logo and changed it into the Yeezus logo, splattering it on t-shirts, hats, and hoodies and selling it in droves. Yeezus merch was some of the most popular merch that I can remember in recent history so I can only assume that the profits were crazy high. Did Metallica get a cut?
Voletta Wallace made the point that nobody connected to the estate, meaning the estate of her deceased son Christopher Wallace, were contacted before Kendall & Kylie’s t-shirts were made and I then thought about how many t-shirts and memorabilia type items are made with people like Marilyn Monroe & Audrey Hepburn’s faces on it. Does their estate get a cut of all of these product’s profits? Or is it a lost cause?
Finally, I was reminded of the Louis Vuitton x Jeff Koons collaboration. Koons used famous masterpieces like the Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and printed them on bags. Louis Vuitton are now selling the capsule collection. A bag from there will set you back $3200 for a Neverfull tote. How does that situation work out? If they are profiting from the work from a long deceased artist, in this case literally hundreds of years deceased, how does it work out in terms of copyright/ownership? I would be curious to find out more. Off-White also makes Caravaggio printed t-shirts for $293.
I guess my main question that I am posing with this post is how do people ensure that the profits from products are going to the right people? If someone’s likeness is used without their knowledge/consent, what is their legal rights/claims on the product’s profits? This is a subject that I’m going to explore in more depth personally over the next few weeks, doing some research. If I find out anything exciting, I will add it to this post as an update!