The wait is over. After more than half a year, NHS Inc., parent company of Santa Cruz Skateboards, and artists Jimbo and Jim Phillips -- known globally for their iconic artwork associated with surf and skateboard culture -- announce that they have finally resolved their copyright dispute with fashion designer, Jeremy Scott. The news comes just shortly before the start of New York Fashion Week, the same event that ignited the discussion over whether or not Jeremy Scott plagiarized the art of Jim Phillips and Santa Cruz Skateboards with his Fall/Winter 2013 collection.
That was in February 2013. Shortly after that event we brought you the news that Jeremy Scott seemed to have ripped off legendary skateboard artist Jim Phillips. NHS asserted that apparel items shown by Scott in his Fall/Winter 2013 collection, and hand bags Scott gave to attendees at the same New York Fashion Week show, used images that were virtually identical to Phillips' artwork on NHS skateboard decks and surfboards. NHS claimed Scott’s apparel infringed on federal and common law copyrights owned by NHS and Phillips. This matter sent shockwaves through the skate and surf communities and left multiple people questioning Jeremy Scott’s creativity and integrity.
Once word was on the street, the email inboxes of Bob Denike, CEO of NHS and of Jim and Jimbo Phillips started flooding with the news alongside their user comments on their respective Facebook profiles.
NHS’ Bob Denike issued the following statement:
“We had never heard of Jeremy Scott until it was brought to our attention. This is not a collaboration or under license, nor did the Phillips family or we approve the use of this artwork on his apparel designs in any way. It’s obvious to us, the Phillips family, the fans of Jim Phillips Sr. and Jimbo Phillips, and fans of the brand Santa Cruz Skateboards, as well as many in the global skateboard and skate art community that there is clear and obvious infringement by Mr. Scott. We are discussing this with our legal team to determine our next steps.
These two artists and this brand are iconic. Any true fan of skateboarding will tell you how the Phillips artwork style, this brand and the activity of skateboarding has positively influenced their lives. It may just be artwork to Mr. Scott, to be used and thrown away by next season, but these artists and brand mean a lot to many people around the world. And by the looks of the outcry on social media, skateboarders and non-skater’s alike are angry to have two of their most favored artists and one of the original true skateboard brands violated in such a way. I hope that Mr. Scott sees that his actions have hurt and affected many people, including the Phillips family, and that he has also severely damaged his own reputation. It is not too late for him to do the right thing, as an artist and creative person, and fix his error in judgment.”
Bob Denike: “After we had sent out this statement to the world we waited a while to see if Scott would contact us on his own to do the right thing. When that did not happen, we sent C&D's (cease and desist – Ed.) to Scott and various contacts and addresses associated with Scott.”
And? Did any response come from Jeremy Scott? Denike: “He responded through his lawyer. My initial expectation was that he would reach out to us, admit what he did and we would avoid dealing with lawyers. As an artist and creative person, I thought he would respect the Phillips family and do the right thing. When that did not happen, we had no choice but to do what we did and get our lawyers involved.”
Now, more than 6 months after the New York Fashion Week, and just a few days before the September 2013 edition of New York Fashion Week (coincidence?), the matter seems to be finally resolved and there’s a settlement in place. Scott has agreed not to produce or distribute these pieces of apparel that caused the controversy and has also agreed to retrieve the infringing items and have them destroyed.
Scott issued the following statement: “I regret that certain pieces of my February 2013 Fall Winter fashion line incorporated imagery that was similar to images owned by NHS and Messrs. Phillips. I now recognize my mistake and out of respect to their work and their rights, the clothing and handbags at issue will not be produced or distributed.” Bob Denike on the settlement: “We have to protect our intellectual property and trademarks, copyrights and brands and we have to stand behind our artists and skateboarders. Jeremy Scott admits to what he did and agreed to have all the items retrieved and destroyed. He states that in a press release, and I do not think that was easy for him to agree to do.” On the question whether or not there was also a financial compensation in place Denike responds: “No comment on the financial aspects of the settlement.”
We thought that all the exposure this case had generated would be great PR for Santa Cruz / Jim Phillips’ artwork and could have sparked more interest in both. Denike: “I do not believe in the idea that any publicity is good publicity. There was a lot of interest in this issue, but we do not need this type of PR to help grow our brands. It was actually quite damaging to us. We don't want to be associated with Scott.”
So what could have happened if Jeremy Scott would show his interest in an official collaboration or license deal? “We have a successful licensing division at NHS. We are active Licensors and Licensees, licensing apparel around the world and also collaborating with brands like Converse, Vans, DaKine, The Simpsons, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Levi's to name just a few. We also work closely with artists such as Todd Bratrud , Jay Howell, Funeral French, Munk One, Skinner, Jeremy Fish, Dirty Donnie, Florian Bertmer, Mike Giant, Travis Milliard, Adam Barton and Neckface. But if Scott contacted us before this infringement, it would not have passed the first round to be considered as collaboration. Like I said, we do not want to be associated with Scott and what he represents.”
Highsnobiety has contacted Jim Phillips, though he has let us know he didn’t want to comment on the matter. Bob Denike about this: ‘He is at an age and point in his life he just doesn’t need the stress. We respect the fact that he just doesn’t want to be involved.’ Gregory Korn from law firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP has been representing Scott in this case. We have reached out to Korn in an effort to receive additional comments from Jeremy Scott. Unfortunately Korn responded with the following answer: “Jeremy will not be commenting further on the matter.”
Words: Steven Fröhlich