Walmart is known for rolling back prices, but are they also making moves that roll right over the intellectual property rights of a Bay Area artist?
The politics of this dispute give it an extra bit of oomph. Walmart, known to be a leading member of the establishment and conservative and not the greatest in terms of worker treatment, has allegedly misappropriated the more anti-establishment work of Eddie Colla and incorporated that work into its art prints. The Colla work in question is certainly protectable as a two-dimensional work of visual art. Walmart’s piece, on first glance, looks to be quite similar. Was Walmart’s manner of moving into the street art game a colossal blunder?
-ATTORNEYSCOTT – [email protected]
Eddie Colla, an Oakland-based artist, created his well-known piece, “Ambition” in 2009. Depicting a female graffiti writer with a spray can, the piece reads, “If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.” But in November 2013, Colla discovered an exact replica of his work marketed as an art print on the Walmart website — without his permission or any sort of legal agreement.
A big box retailer copying an independent artist note-for-note was not the kind of audacious underdog story Colla envisioned in the work’s text. “I made a piece about individuals controlling their own fate and not making their success contingent on the approval of others,” said Colla. “It then gets adopted by a neo-feudal corporation like Walmart. A corporation whose employment practices have created a 2 million person underclass in this country.”
As Colla dug deeper, he discovered that Walmart was selling the mass-produced prints of his work through a wholesaler called Wayfair, who is marketing Colla’s work as a Banksy print through Amazon and Overstock.com in addition to Walmart’s website. Eddie Colla’s name was omitted entirely and his signature was taken off the piece. Friends who visited the Walmart website after they heard Colla’s story noticed the Colla knock-off showing up in their Facebook ads and Google ads on the various sites they visited when they subsequently surfed the net — presumably because of a cookie from the Wayfair website.
The idea of big box retailers like Walmart appropriating an anti-establishment art form, street art, to further their profits is all too ironic. The bastions of conservatism and propagators of the increasing wealth gap and declining middle class, companies like Walmart have an ideology pitted against the anti-authoritarian message of Colla’s “Ambition.” Colla chose to combat the unabashed theft of his work with parody — and, of course, an impending lawsuit. A new version of “Ambition” titled “It’s Only Stealing If You Get Caught” shows the same image with altered text: “Introducing the anti-establishment, left-wing subversive vandalism collection. Glorified vandalism available now at Walmart.”
The satirical new artwork — which recently was debuted on a San Francisco billboard on the intersection of Oak St. and Divisadero St. — points out that Walmart’s greed has no limits. Even a radical art form has the potential to be swallowed up by the behemoth machine of corporate capitalism. Colla released a print of “It’s Only Stealing If You Get Caught” with 1XRun on earlier today, December 2, to raise awareness for his cause and gather funds for the hefty legal fees necessary to sue Walmart and Wayfair for the theft of his artwork. The print sold out within one hour, but it’s only a start.
- Online source
The images are below, Colla on top, Walmart on bottom: