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DKNY Owns Up to (Inadvertently) Stealing Photos From Popular Blog ‘Humans of New York’

Even if you don't follow Humans of New York (HONY) on Tumblr, you've likely seen images from the street photography blog in your Facebook newsfeed, on Pinterest or featured in various publications. HONY was started in 2010 by a former Chicago bond trader, Brandon Stanton, who quit his job to move to New York City and take photos all day. The work he's been posting found a large audience: on Facebook, the street photography blog has 561k followers (in comparison, Scott Schuman's The Sartorialist has "only" 154k). Presumably, some of these many thousands of followers contributed to Stanton's Hurricane Sandy relief IndieGogo campaign, which raised $318,000 — well above its $100,000 goal.

This is all to say: Humans of New York is compelling and has a proven track record of engaging and mobilizing a large fanbase. 

So it's no surprise that big fancy brand DKNY was interested in acquiring some of Stanton's photos for marketing purposes. From a post which went up on Tumblr today [via Gawker]:

"Several months ago, I was approached by a representative of DKNY who asked to purchase 300 of my photos to hang in their store windows 'around the world.' They offered me $15,000. A friend in the industry told me that $50 per photo was not nearly enough to receive from a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue. So I asked for more money. They said 'no.' 

Today, a fan sent me a photo from a DKNY store in Bangkok. The window is full of my photos. These photos were used without my knowledge, and without compensation."

You can see the photo above. 

Stanton says he doesn't "want any money" and is asking DKNY to donate $100,000 to the YMCA in Bed-Stuy (an underserved neighborhood in Brooklyn) on his behalf.

DKNY PR Girl quickly posted a statement to Tumblr which owned up to using Stanton's images, but claimed it was a mistake: 

"It appears that inadvertently the store in Bangkok used an internal mock up containing some of Mr. Stanton's images that was intended to merely show the direction of the spring visual program. We apologize for this error and are working to ensure that only the approved artwork is used. 

DKNY has always supported the arts and we deeply regret this mistake. Accordingly, we are making a charitable donation of $25,000 to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn in Mr. Stanton's name." 

It's commendable that DKNY moved to respond to the charges so quickly, but this is less apology, more equivocation. Most detail-oriented luxury brands don't commonly mistake internal mock-ups for the final product, and it seems miserly for a major label like DKNY, which is owned by LVMH, one of the biggest companies in the world, to donate only a quarter of the $100,000 Stanton requested to the Bed-Stuy YMCA, where it'll do a lot of good. 

But Stanton says he's happy with DKNY's pledge: "$25k will help a lot of kids at the YMCA. I know a lot of you would like to have seen the full $100k, but we are going to take them at their word that it was a mistake, and be happy that this one had a happy ending."

For DKNY, this is less "happy ending," more big blue bruise:

Got that? If you want to keep being a "guest" at DKNY shows, don't say things that'll tar the brand's image in the public eye. Even if they're true. 

[UPDATE: As of 5:50 PM on Monday, February 25, DKNY's Twitter no longer displays the tweet embedded above.]

Image via Humans of New York