Picasso famously said ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’.
But, what happens when the copycats get found out? And, what happens when the artist who’s work is stolen tells them to stop?
This is a story about the artist who told them to stop.
My story starts in 2014 when I created my first piece of art - a Rich Enough to be Batman limited edition print. When I created it I was asked what name I was going to use to sign the artwork. I immediately responded “Me! I did it … by Heath Kane”. From that moment on, I was representing myself.
My signature is a mark that represents who I am and what I create. It therefore comes as no surprise that my signature is particularly important to me. Not only because I use it to sign and authenticate every piece of work, but because it also forms my logo.
For years I’ve worked in corporate environments where I was small cog in a giant wheel. When I moved on and became a full time artist it was important to me that I was an independent creative. I didn’t want to hide behind a fictitious name, pseudonym or alias. I wanted to stand tall in ownership of my own work and I wanted my art to be mine and judged as such. For this reason I continue to sign my work by my own name and use @byheathkane for all my social media handles. My work is created by me, and therefore it’s mine.
In November last year it was brought to my attention that someone had stolen my logo. A friend working in the creative industry messaged me to let me know that a logo had been created for a campaign called Humanise by the Thomas Heatherwick Studio. The Thomas Heatherwick Studio is a large and well regarded architectural firm in London. The Humanise logo was designed by their in-house design company Uncommon, and, quite frankly, the similarities between their logo and mine were uncanny.
I proceeded to write a (very) polite email suggesting that there appeared to be a conflict in their logo identity. I informed them that my logo and signature had been trademarked since 2019, and they were in breach of trademark law. I proposed that we sit down to discuss the conflict, and was even nice enough to offer alternative creative solutions to their supposedly ‘new’ logo.
After a week of waiting for a reply, I eventually received a very brief response from their COO to say that they were looking into it and would come back to me the following week. Another week went by until I realised that I would need to chase them. They eventually responded with the following:
Clearly upset by their response I sought formal advice and spoke to a trademark lawyer. It seemed that pursuing a legal battle would be both expensive and time consuming. It would have apparently taken a substantial amount of money to defend myself, and in doing so would likely end in an expensive court battle. I’ve been left feeling disappointed in my lack of options. I can’t compete financially, and even if I defended it legally and won, what would I gain, other than pride and a large legal invoice?
Some might question, does it really matter?
Thomas Heathwick are focused on architecture, and I’m focused on art. Whilst the fields are different there is the potential for our paths to cross. At some point, their campaign will meet my street art. Will they then deem any building containing my art devoid of innovation? The absurdity is perplexing.
Copying another brand’s logo leads to brand and consumer confusion. It is both lazy and unimaginative.
I wanted to share my story to place a spotlight on this decision by Uncommon, their design team. and the wider Thomas Heatherwick Studio. I will let the court of public opinion decide for itself. It is Thomas Heatherwick’s credibility that should be on trial. It’s easy for me to wonder whether the battle is worth it and whether I should ignore this blatant trademark infringement. But sometimes, we need to challenge the privilege and status that wealth and financial backing bring. Not to mention, the lack of innovation. Thomas Heatherwick Studio seem to think that they can copy an independent artist, with no forethought to the knock on effect on my brand or the wider artistic community.
I will continue to share this story with my peers, customers and friends as well as the wider creative industry. Their clients should be made aware of the trademark infringements and the un-repentant nature in which they have gone about this business. I want them to cease using my logo.
In an age where our intellectual property is already under threat by artificial intelligence, should we really be stealing from other humans too?
Thomas Heatherwick. It’s my fucking logo and I think it’s time you accept that and gave it back.