In 1995, celebrity photographer Estevan Oriol shot a photo of a female’s fingers forming the letters “LA.” The symbolic imagery represented not only the city of Los Angeles, Oriol’s hometown, but the rugged street culture and gang influences of LA. Aptly titled, “LA Hands,” the photograph has become an iconic image throughout Southern California lifestyle and culture. Oriol also printed the image onto t-shirts as he launched his own clothing line in 2006.
Fast forward to 2013 when Brandy Melville, an Italian fashion house, designed a women’s top featuring an image that is strikingly similar to Oriol’s original work of art. The Melville top in question was sold exclusively at H&M retail stores worldwide.
As a result, Oriol and the Yourist Law Corporation have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles alleging that the t-shirt sold by H&M and manufactured by Melville improperly uses and misappropriates Oriol’s copyrighted photo.
According to Oriol and his lawyers, H&M and Brandy Melville misappropriated his “LA Hands” photograph by printing a similar image on women’s tank tops sold in H&M stores. The lawsuit filed by Oriol contend that the Defendants infringed on his artistic work by using his photograph to create a “derivative and substantially similar image” on women’s tank tops that are sold worldwide in H&M retail stores.
The defendants in this matter will likely argue that their work falls under the Transformative Use Doctrine and thus not an infringement on Oriol’s work. The judge will likely consider whether Oriol’s original photo was used to create something new by adding a new meaning or merely copied into another work.