Louis Vuitton sues artist, again

Nadia Plesner sued for this image.jpeg In a T-shirt sold in 2008 to raise money for victims of violence in Darfur, artist Nadia Plesner depicted an African child holding a Louis Vuitton-style bag. So Louis Vuitton sued her. When she recently included the same design in a painting, it sued her again. The first time around, Louis Vuitton claimed it wanted merely to stop her from selling the merchandise. This time, however, there is little pretense that it is about anything other than wanting the image gotten rid of. Paul Schmelzer writes:
Despite a clearly artistic -- and not commercial -- intention behind the work, Louis Vuitton is seeking monetary penalties (220,000 Euros or roughly $307,000 and counting, with no ceiling on the penalty) and aims to prevent Plesner from exhibiting the painting either on her website or at venues in the European Union. (Here's an unofficial English translation of the court order.)
LV sues artist Nadia Plesner [Eyeteeth]

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  1. I don’t blame the artist for using Vuitton to guilt-monger some money.
    Nor do I blame Vuitton for not wanting to represent Western callousness to suffering.

    1. As much as they may not want to represent Western callousness to suffering, their very nature necessitate that they do. When one sells useless luxury items created by wage slaves for grossly inflated prices, one invites public scrutiny and condemnation by comparison.

      As for the artist “guilt-mongering” as you put it, that also should (and does) face public scrutiny. It’s a striking image and a powerful message, but it comes across like a sledge hammer with a post-it note stuck on the end reading “Screw You”. Perhaps it’s too strong – or perhaps it isn’t strong enough. But at least the artist isn’t trying to defend her own public image and reputation by legally intimidating someone else, tying up the already overburdened court system in the process.

      ~D. Walker

      1. D. Walker: this stuff’s easy.

        IS BUYING YOUR NEW iPHONE MORE IMPORTANT THAN SAVING THE SUFFERING CHILDREN OF AFRICA?

        Hey, Mom, I’m an artist!

    1. From the linked article that nobody read.
      “…Despite a clearly artistic — and not commercial — intention behind the work, Louis Vuitton is seeking monetary penalties (220,000 Euros or roughly $307,000 and counting, with no ceiling on the penalty) and aims to prevent Plesner from exhibiting the painting either on her website or at venues in the European Union. (Here’s an unofficial English translation of the court order.)…”

      FREE PUBLICITY MY ASS

    1. Even better than Streisand effect:

      ..Calling for Illustrations of Mohummad with Louis Vitton bags..

  2. Is their lawsuit about using an unauthorized image of one of their purses? The bag may look like one of their purses in terms of the colors used but if you even look at it for a minute you know it’s not an LV bag so it can’t even be considered a knockoff (which is illegal). Is it the artist’s intention to confuse people into thinking it’s an LV bag? It wouldn’t seem to me that LV has a legitimate reason to sue and even be financially rewarded for it. I guess they can afford the bad publicity, even among the celebrities who may no longer buy their purses if their concerns with Darfur are important to them.

  3. I love this art piece, it reminds me of something I did over a decade ago with Kathy Lee and Carnival Cruises ads.

    And as udders have said, thanks should go to Louis Vuitton for helping to bring this art to a larger audience by suing the artist.

  4. Well previously I just found their handbags ugly, but now I get to feel self-righteous about it!

  5. Is Louis Vuitton run by incredibly pissy art critics or a bunch of dumb assholes? It’s difficult to determine. Now at least whenever I’m around people who mention Vuitton (disturbingly often), I will have this wonderful anecdote to prompt the question…

  6. I’m pretty sure Louis Vuitton isn’t responsible for starvation in Africa (or elsewhere).

    As for “wage slavery”, it appears to be the lesser of two evils when compared to the typical rural impoverished life.

    1. “As for ‘wage slavery,’ it appears to be the lesser of two evils when compared to the typical rural impoverished life.”

      Hmmmm, tip of my tongue . . . isn’t there a name for this one too? Something about seeing these trees instead of the neocon, quasi-imperialist forest?

    2. “As for ‘wage slavery,’ it appears to be the lesser of two evils when compared to the typical rural impoverished life.”

      Uuuuh… sorry but that sort of logic just makes me cringe. It’s saying that because some people are extremely poor and out of options, it makes it fair game to exploit them.

      As far as Louis Vuitton is concerned…

      “Draw a Louis Vuitton Bag Day” anyone? :D

      1. “”Draw a Louis Vuitton Bag Day” anyone? :D ”

        Every time I try it ends up looking like a scrotum.

        1. Because they DO look like scrotums. There is a reason you never seen them in fashion magazines outside of advertisements.

      2. Uuuuh… sorry but that sort of logic just makes me cringe. It’s saying that because some people are extremely poor and out of options, it makes it fair game to exploit them.

        People don’t really grasp how terrible “normal” life can be, that people would flock to grueling factory jobs. We tend to idealize the notion of living in a small remote village.

        If there’s a way to skip over this early industrial revolution crap and straight into modern society, then great. But I get the feeling it’s not that easy. I certainly don’t have the answers.

        1. I agree that there are no ‘easy’ solutions… Actually, no. I believe that there are PLENTY of realistic solutions to explore. There are many business relationships beyond total indifference or shameless exploitation that the West could have with the 3rd world. Unfortunately, that’s not what most corporations are after and there isn’t much that us ‘little folks’ can do about it.

          But at least we shouldn’t fall on the “They’re lucky to have our crumbs” line of thought.

          1. It’s funny you mention shameless exploitation. That’s exactly what I was thinking about this piece. I feel like the artwork is totally exploitive of the child. The way the boy (girl?) is shaded in a unattractive way and set against that white background like an insect on a pin? And what is with the white shading on the top of his head? I get that its meant to cast LV in an unattractive light, but it comes off as the opposite to me.

            The child is being subjected to an ugly gaze and that doesn’t sit well with me. Compare this, to say, the picture from your book (if you don’t mind me saying) of a woman at the Ganges. She was cast in a very earthy, natural light in her native environment. Lovely, warm, expert illustration. But now, I’m imagining the same woman set against a white background, with dark lines and shadows all over her exposed body, holding some irrelevant piece of couture on her person. It would destroy the beauty and dignity of the image. You see what I mean?

            I like the artist’s intent and her noble charity efforts, but I think this image is crassly exploitative of the child pictured above. At least that’s my reaction the last 50 times I’ve scrolled over this image yesterday and today! :)

          2. Wolfie!! Long time no see!! :D

            Yeah, I suspect that we do have very similar tastes in art and delivery ;)…

            It’s still disingenuous of LV to try to silence (or ‘punish’) the artist. Designer brands aim to become cultural icons, worn and displayed by the ‘elite’ classes. That’s cool but they also have to accept that, as pop culture items, they may be used as symbols in works of art as well, especially symbols of luxury, privilege and/or greed. It’s comes with the territory.

          3. But at least we shouldn’t fall on the “They’re lucky to have our crumbs” line of thought.

            I’m certainly not going to disagree with that sentiment. I just don’t want to take away their crumbs until they have a better alternative.

            There are many business relationships beyond total indifference or shameless exploitation that the West could have with the 3rd world.

            Unfortunately it’s not really practical to outlaw bad business practices in foreign countries. Even if you get past the loopholes, a model company would probably get undercut by its less scrupulous competitors (from another 1st/2nd world nation).

            Real reform has to happen in the 3rd world countries themselves. (Unless we overthrow their government for business interests. Thankfully that practice seems to have stopped with the end of the Cold War and the rise of the Information Age.)

      3. Hmmmm, tip of my tongue . . . isn’t there a name for this one too? Something about seeing these trees instead of the neocon, quasi-imperialist forest?

        Perhaps I can’t get past the trees because I don’t know the secret path to first world nationhood. But let’s not get lost in a forest of analogies…

        There is no secret formula for a nation to rise out of third world status. Or if there is it’s a very well kept secret. The most recent example I can think of is South Korea — and they had some full-on imperialism, not this watered down “quasi” stuff.

    3. Except the finality of it is worse. You see they’ll utilize the slave labor there, which yes may be better than they were, but when standards catch up (and they always do) LV will pull out of there and leave them in a bigger mess. They’ve grown accustomed to having good wages and a better standard of living albeit small, then they have to go backwards, making the effect worse.

  7. i’m pretty sure that fair use doesn’t hinge on whether or not people enjoy being made fun of…

  8. I would bet my Swiss Army Champion that hardly any of us who read this site are more than 5 feet away from a variety of objects that easily qualify as ‘conspicuous consumption’ to those suffering in Africa. It’s all relative, no? You to a Ferrari; the dispossessed to your laptop.

    1. You make a good point, but there’s still a big difference between spending several hundred thousand dollars on a 2-seater with dismal fuel economy and spending $50k or less on one’s choice of more economical vehicles, which, if you’re driving at all safely or within the allowances of the law, perform just as well, are more comfortable, and are far more efficient.

      I suppose the analogous laptop situation might be choosing some $3k or more ultrathin something-or-other over a $500 model that meets your computing needs, especially if being able to carry it around easily isn’t even something that’s relevant to its intended use.

      On the other hand, the pricey ultraportable still adds ‘plausible function’ value, while the Ferrari, in my opinion, does not, (and so my contrived example really isn’t satisfactory).

    2. Talk only of YOUR OWN pocket knife, dude, leave other people’s pocket knifes out of this.

    3. “It’s all relative, no?”

      Maybe after one reaches the point of being reasonably sure of enough food, water and shelter to stay alive.

    4. I suppose if my computer or cell phone was fabulously expensive purely because of its brand or logos rather than its basic functionality……..

      But yes, it’s not that hard to see the difference to see the difference between everyday Western appliances and incredibly overpriced goods based entirely on status rather than functionality.

      1. But yes, it’s not that hard to see the difference to see the difference between everyday Western appliances and incredibly overpriced goods based entirely on status rather than functionality.

        Indeed. One of the key differences being that your everyday Western appliances are made by wage slaves in third world countries, while LV’s incredibly overpriced goods are made in places like France and Switzerland under rather different working conditions.

        1. Pretty much irrelevant my chap. My spending $50 bucks for a phone I need is not the same as spending $2,000 plus for a vanity bag. Good luck with that false equivalency angle you’re trying though…..

          1. “Stooge” seems appropriate. By your reasoning impoverished people who buy $20 bags made in China are on the same level as those who buy $2k bags that are pure status symbols.

          2. I know they’re different, that’s why I pointed out one of the differences. Another difference is that people who buy LV’s gaudy tat don’t have to pretend their purchases are necessities to justify the working conditions of the people who make them.

      2. Well; if you want to live a happy life using products that have been designed with experience in mind you might need to spend a bit more (or we’d all be using the free brick phone option on our contracts).

        The actual question is whether you care more about improving your own life, or that of someone else.

        The final cost is irrelevant.

  9. Attack one artist and you attack us all.

    From the hubub of general pitchfork weilding masses I hear “Louis Vuitton will rue this action.”

    When they are ONLY know as the crappy leather bag company that sued Nadia Plasner before going bankrupt they will rue.

    I have already seen googlebombs and videos and photoshoppery directed at this company.

    They are really going to have to apologise very very quickly and make a massive donation to Nadia’s charity if they are going to stop the brewing internet shitstorm before it destroys them utterly.

    So I heard anyway.

    1. No, that link is from the “first time” around that Rob mentions, hence the “again” in “Louis Vuitton sues artist, again.”

    2. Interesting, and useful to know. This comment from LV makes me a little ill, though:

      “We have never wanted to attack Nadia Plesner as a person. But when she is using our brand, she must ask us first. So says the law. It’s about principles and it is our duty to protect our authors and designers.” [Some improvement on the Google translate on my part]

      I’m not a lawyer, but I am reasonably sure that no, she does not need to ask to use their brand first, not for satirical purposes.

      “The company has also never liked that matter would get so much attention, said [the spokesperson]. We are very bothered by this. We never wanted it mediatised. What Mrs. Plesner does for Darfur is a wonderful thing.”

      Yep, the Streisand Effect. Lol oops. We were just protecting our brand. Honest. We don’t hate little starving kids in Darfur. Please donate, but don’t donate so much you can’t buy our genuine, authentic high quality handbags!

      Bah – I was looking for a nice lampoonable marketese quote from their abomination of a website, but it’s disturbingly light on copy. I guess the Louis Vuitton target demographic are unused to reading more than a sentence or two at a time.

  10. I was wondering about the efficacy of this piece due to the fact that these Vuitton bags are so out of reach for most of us in the middle, even upper-middle, class.

    But what if the child was holding an iPad? Does someone need an iPad any more than another person needs a fancy handbag? A smartphone?

    Of course, we don’t really *need* 98% of the things we own, but we make choices. I would argue that it’s healthy to be constantly (and I do mean constantly!) evaluating these choices we make every day.

    I submit this essay for everyone’s consideration. As many have stated above, I don’t have the answers to these issues and I only raise these points for the sake of stimulation.

    http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/199704–.htm

  11. Never mind the discussion of whether the painting and its sentiment have merit. Let’s focus on the fact that LV is trying to silence a critic through a gross misinterpretation of copyright law. I say we make that image the most famous image on the web for a day. Repost it EVERYWHERE! Start on FB and twitter. Make it into stickers. Put it on T-shirts and donate the proceeds to Darfur (or the artist’s defense fund). Banksy-ize it and plaster it onto buildings around your hood. Make it iconic.

    1. People should be nicer to artists. Threatening them with money is a dick move. Unless they really are just asking for it, but that’s such a rare occurrence. So much better to embrace them with money and help them do good in the world.

  12. Anyone else sad seeing all the pseudo-anarchists turning into pseudo-libertarians in the last 10 years?
    We had it good but didn’t know it.

    People had fun talking Area 51 and Illuminati, now they want to cut corporate taxes.
    Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, I can take , but this neo(?)-yuppie shit is too goddamn depressing.

    1. Anyone else sad seeing all the pseudo-anarchists turning into pseudo-libertarians in the last 10 years?
      We had it good but didn’t know it.

      People had fun talking Area 51 and Illuminati, now they want to cut corporate taxes.

      While real anarchists join protests against government cuts, ironically enough.

      Not sure which group should be against corporate taxes, since they’re fundamentally regressive. Fake-pseudo-anarchists, maybe.

  13. I think I’ll go and implement the Streisand Effect today. Print up some stickers and go for a circle walk around the LV store here in town.

  14. (sigh) If LV doesn’t like it I guess this means I’m going to be forced to distribute this image as widely as possible in all available forms of media.

  15. this is a realy great post, i find the painting really liberating, i dont think LV sued her because of trademark rules but because the artist used a brand that most rich people go after, i would love a shirt!

  16. So does anyone actually think designer handbags like this are attractive in any way, or know someone who does?

    I mean, anytime I’ve discussed purses with girls (while shopping or whatever), my opinion always seems to be completely the opposite of what girls think, but I was never able to tell if they liked certain styles because they actually think they look nice, or if there’s something else.

    I realize fancy purses and so on are more about showing off to other girls rather than to attract guys (forgive me for making such generalizations) but I’ve seen otherwise attractive girls in attractive clothing with really awful bags, which ends up being a turnoff, and it doesn’t make sense to me.

    A nice racket if you can get into it, I guess – no talent for making things look nice required.

  17. Louis Vuitton is only about conspicuous consumption – the design is hideous – people only want it because is says “look what I can waste on crap”.

    Maybe that should be their new slogan.

    Louis Vuitton for when you want to say “look what I can waste on crap”.

    This is the second time they have attacked Nadia Plesner.

    This is censorship by the rich abusing the courts.

    Nobody buying a Vuitton baby hide bag could possibly mistake a painting for a bag.

    They know they won’t win but it will cost Nadia time and money to defend her artistic freedom of speech.

    I bet that they avoid all of their tax as well.

    Maybe we could have a boing boing post that collates all the artistic sentiment against these evil tyrants.

    I believe les Anons are at it with “Operation Skankbag” trying to make the phrase “Louis Vuitton whore” trend.

    http://www.funcage.com/blog/louis-vuitton-whore/

  18. anyone know whence comes the basic LV design? It’s more-or-less evolved from cherry blossoms. The original LV design, which can be readily seen in modern day LV goods, was introduced in the 1890s.

    Luis Vitton. Steampunk. who’da thunk?

  19. I don´t have much sympathy for Louis Vuitton, but the use of an LV Design in an image associated with violence in Darfur is kind of disconnected and unfair in my opinion. It seems to me to be more of an aesthetic choice than an ideological one. It just goes well with the pink sweater on the chihuahua.

  20. I’ve never heard of Luis Vitton. Looking at their bags I think somebody is having a rather large joke at the expense of the rich. A carpet bag covered in bland chocolate coloured wallpaper is now a “must-have”? Hysterical.

  21. If Louis wins this, it’ll be a huge showing of injustice. I hope money doesn’t have such a strong influence in this court case. I don’t think Louis could’ve made a bigger example of his embarrassment and shame then suing the artist a second time. Get over yourself, Louis….

  22. Vuitton or not, that bag is UGLY! And I’m not talking about the colors. But that’s just my opinion.

  23. What’s the legal situation here?

    Can LV claim to own the rights to all depictions of his bags? That would be crazy. Surely copyright just prevents people from selling designs that are copies of LV bags.

    Just because the design of a bag is copyrighted shouldn’t mean that images featuring the design are. Does copyright really extend that far?

    If so, can Coke, MacDonalds and Starbucks sue pretty much every high-street photo or image that features one of their copyrighted logo images?

    1. I wish someone who knows about EU intellectual property law would answer this question. My inexpert opinion is that under US law it would be permitted as a satirical use and thus not a copyright violation but would be a trademark violation unless a disclaimer accompanied it.

  24. what is wrong with louis vuitton’s PR department? why the hell would they want to be seen in such a negative light like this, do they even have a PR department? these course of actions suggest not.

  25. I love how we treat handbags with greater legal reverence than sacred works like the Bible, Koran or Torah.

  26. Simple solution- change the designer. I am sure Gucci or someone else would care a whole lot less. These people know that their stuff is way overpriced. Boycott LV.

  27. Always felt that was among the ugliest patterns imaginable. I swear it’s a statement of “I can afford to not care my bag is ugly”. So adding another reason to not buy their stuff is just as well.

  28. As an artwork it makes me cringe a little.

    Representing the polar opposites of silly consumption and utter desolate poverty, OK fair enough. But handbag and starved child are just too far apart for me.

    I think the artist could rouse far more contemplation if she could tell me about a problem closer to the child in which I am more likely to feel partly responsible, a landmine for example. The silliness of overpriced handbags would be more interesting if she discussed how it appears in my own western world. People getting themselves into difficult debts for such a handbag for example. Again I would have to think about the way in which my society is constructed and how I might be complicit.

  29. The first hearing of her counter suit is tomorrow morning.

    I so hope she wins. It will be a sad day in Europe if satire becomes so easily purged by corporate fiat.

    As regards any ‘violation of design right’, surely “ceci n’est pas un sac a main” should be sufficient defence.

  30. @ Rayonic

    “People don’t really grasp how terrible “normal” life can be, that people would flock to grueling factory jobs. We tend to idealize the notion of living in a small remote village.”

    This sounds more like apologetics for cupidity and exploitation than an informed, empirical testament. I’ve lived for years without electricity or running water in some of the most pristine wilderness left in the U.S. and I’ve never been happier. In fact I’m scrambling to get back. I pass my days now in a necropolis, I mean metropolis, and yet still do much to live an ethical life. I raise food. I spend responsibly. I choose employers carefully. And when BP shat in the Gulf, I sold my car despite the particularly pedestrian-hostile nature of my town. So unless you’ve farmed or raised livestock or otherwise lived primitively, STFU, read some anthropology, philosophy and history and then try some introspection. The only thing idealized is your effete, onanistic world-view. The entire globe can’t be ‘first world’ simultaneously for the simple reason that there would be no one to carry your fat ass.

  31. That kid looks an awful lot like Starvin’ Marvin, or whatever his name was, on South Park. Which came first? I haven’t watched that show in years, so I know it’s been awhile.

  32. I don’t know about the rest of the EU but in the UK there’s no satirical use exception, unfortunately.

  33. Artists could start boycotting cheap copies of Louis Vuitton (as they never have money for the originals anyway).

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