Brandon Stanton, the creator and founder of the popular street photography blog Humans of New York, woke up Monday morning to a text message he didn’t want to receive.
It was from a friend in Bangkok, congratulating him on the new DKNY store windows there, where several of Stanton’s photographs were apparently displayed. The only problem? Stanton never gave the fashion label permission to use the images.
Stanton, 28, says he was approached by the brand three months ago about a possible deal. It wanted to use 300 images from his blog in its windows around the world (including, possibly, some in New York). It offered him $15,000, Stanton says—and he refused “on principle.” As he explained in a Facebook post: “A friend in the industry told me that $50 per photo was not nearly enough to receive from a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue.” After Stanton refused the sum, the deal—as far as he understood it—was dead.
Then came evidence that the store had gone ahead and posted his pictures anyway. Stanton says the DKNY store in Bangkok, which has a New York theme, featured the same presentation of images that executives had discussed in early meetings with him, with several images hung behind mannequins as a kind of wallpaper. After discovering this early Monday morning, Stanton posted a message to his blog and Facebook page, asking his fans to share the story, and openly requested that DKNY donate $100,000 to his local YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
In a statement published to its Facebook page midday Monday, DKNY apologized for the error. "For the Spring 2013 windows program, we licensed and paid for photos from established photography service providers," the statement reads. “However, it appears that inadvertently the store in Bangkok used an internal mock up containing some of Mr. Stanton’s images that was intended to merely show the direction of the spring visual program. We apologize for this error and are working to ensure that only the approved artwork is used.” The statement adds that the brand “deeply regrets the mistake” and that it will make a charitable donation of $25,000 to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy.
For his part, Stanton says he didn’t publicize the beef to make any money for himself, and he hasn’t even contacted the company. “I want it to be clear that I have no intention of personally enriching myself from this publicity at all,” he told The Daily Beast. “I will not litigate, and I will not accept money from them. I just want to give it to the YMCA.”
Because of his fans around the world, Stanton adds, “Every time one of my photos get picked up, I get notified about it.
“Ten years ago, this could have been done, and no one would have figured out about it. Social media makes work easier to steal—but it also makes the people who take it more accountable.”