McDonald’s Copyright Concern with Graffiti Restaurants
McDonald’s is at an important crossroads. For the first time in the company’s seventy-six-year history, the world’s largest restaurant chain is struggling to appeal to the youngest generation. According to a memorandum written by one of McDonald’s top franchisees, just one in five millennials has even tried a Big Mac.1 As young people are turning to newer options with fresher ingredients, McDonalds is losing the burger battle and its youngest customer base at the same time. But just like any elder-person trying to connect with a younger generation, they look to what they believe the kids think is cool. McDonalds is too following this timeless cycle, turning to social media to better target youth, and hiring 200 people from Amazon and PayPal to strengthen its digital presence.2 However, like parents trying to act cool for their children, it most likely leads to some embarrassing moments along the way. This is exactly what is happening with McDonalds’s restaurants across the European market.
McDonald’s has recently introduced graffiti-themed décor, titled “Extreme”, to a number of its European restaurants. This interior overhaul was meant to target millennials by using “graffiti-like visual language on the walls to remind people that McDonald’s is a brand of the streets,” explained the company’s former chief brand strategist for Europe.3 What McDonald’s seemed to overlook, however, is that this style of artwork so no longer solely regulated to subways and dark alleys, but are now regarded as coveted works of art. As the spaces in art galleries open for works of graffiti, so do their prices. As the art’s value increases, so do the artist’s willingness to sue in order to protect their work. Now, McDonald’s is being repeatedly named as the defendant in a mounting number of graffiti copyright infringement cases.
The most notable case deals with the estate of the late, New York-based, graffiti artist Dash Snow, who’s work has been sold for six-figures in a number of well-known auction houses. The suit, brought by Jade Berreau, Snow’s former girlfriend and administrator of his estate, accuses McDonald’s of using replica images of Snow’s “SACE” tag in hundreds of restaurants across Europe.4 In doing so, Berreau alleges that the company is painting Snow as a corporate sellout,5 profiting from his name and reputation, and ultimately puts legacy at risk. The lawsuit notes that McDonald’s is using Snow’s name and signature “in a manner suggesting that [he] created all the surrounding work….Not only is [his] artwork the largest and most prominent element on display, but is also the only element ‘created’ but the a famous artist.”6 The estate is demanding a court order to force McDonald’s to remove all the artwork in question, as well as an undisclosed amount in damages. For Berreau to succeed, she will have to show that McDonald’s designers copied the “SACE” tag as well as prove that it possesses an originality distinguishable from generic graffiti.
While McDonald’s is putting forth a valiant effort to forge a stronger connection with millennials, this is truly, in the words of the Fresh Prince, a Parent-Just-Don’t-Understand-moment. It will be interesting to see how McDonald’s moves forward in acquiring the younger customer base.
This would be the antithesis of this work, as Snow was known for firmly being anti-corporate consumerist and the “Kurt Cobain” of the New York gallery world.↩