The Scottish photographer, well-known for his Vogue cover shoots and black-and-white photographs of high-profile models and celebrities, including the album cover of Sade’s “Lover’s Rock,” is accusing the Swiss luxury group of using his copyrighted work without receiving, or even asking, permission.
At issue is what Watson described in a complaint filed at the end of January in New York federal court as “a photograph of a celebrity superimposed over a photograph of a leopard” that was featured in a 1994 book collection of his work titled “Cyclops.” Although Watson did not specify the photo further, it is presumably his 1992 black-and-white image of Mick Jagger with a leopard superimposed over his face that leaves clear his mouth and eyes.
Watson wrote in his complaint that the work at issue “is famous and iconic and is part of plaintiff’s private collection and has never been used for commercial purposes,” and that individual framed prints have been sold to “collectors” for up to $100,000.
“Plaintiff has received and rejected numerous highly lucrative offers for use of plaintiff’s work for advertising campaigns,” Watson wrote in the complaint. “Plaintiff has rejected such offers because such offers would have destroyed the value of plaintiff’s works and other works of plaintiff that are not available for commercial purposes.”
Even with this guarded approach to his work, Watson claims his Mick Jagger-as-leopard image was used by Cartier after he in mid-2016 allowed the Swiss art festival St. Moritz Art Masters, which was partially sponsored by Cartier, to reproduce it on a limited number of publicity posters that were signed and handed out as prizes to some attendees.
After the festival, Watson claims that Cartier asked his agents about using the work for advertising, given the brand’s use of leopards, but the request was rejected outright, with Cartier purportedly being told Watson’s work “was not available for commercial use at any price.”
Nevertheless, Cartier allegedly copied and reproduced Watson’s photo for advertisements that ran last year, including magazines published by Idea Books, a publisher based in Amsterdam focused on niche art and fashion titles, like Self Service and Purple Fashion.
Watson also claims that Richemont has admitted that the company “failed to secure” his consent to using the photo and now that it’s been put to commercial use, he says the value of his work has been “destroyed.”
“Plaintiff has received no requests for Plaintiff’s Work since the publication of the Infringing Ads by defendants,” according to the complaint.
Given the allegedly damaging effect on the reputation of his work in general and that of one of his more popular individual works, Watson is seeking no less than $25 million in damages from Richemont.
A representative of Richemont could not be reached for comment.
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