Creators turn to public shame to demand compensation from brands they say they don’t credit them

Designer Cecelia Monge found herself in conflict with Converse after accusing the shoe brand of using her designs, which she submitted in 2019, in their National Parks collection.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence and it’s a bit unfortunate when big companies ‘borrow’ from smaller designers,” Monge said in his TikTok video from May 2021, which racked up $ 22.8 million. views. Converse denied the charges in a comment on a post on Diet Prada’s Instagram account.

Monge, who did not respond to NBC News ‘request for comment, and the shoe brand, which also did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment, never teamed up.

But months later, in October 2021, Monge was given a new opportunity: to create a clothing collection using his original designs inspired by national parks in collaboration with underwear brand Shinesty. The collection is now almost sold out.

While some creators may seek legal compensation for work they believe has been stolen, few have the resources to go after a well-known brand. Calling a brand online, however, is free.

And that’s why many creators, like Monge, are increasingly using social media to reach out to brands they believe don’t credit them and pay them properly.

Copyright laws regarding creative work are not always clear, and anyone who posts online risks their work being plagiarized and distributed without credit. Big companies have long had the upper hand when working with creators, especially those with a smaller platform.

The tide is turning in favor of paying creators, but is denouncing brands for using allegedly plagiarized works really useful?

It depends, according to Evan Morgenstein, CEO of influencer agency The Digital Renegades, which manages partnerships between creators and brands.

“The brand to the consumer [marketing] is dead.”

-Evan Morgenstein, CEO of Digital Renegades

Publicly shaming a brand can be tempting because consumers tend to trust other consumers more than a large corporation, Morgenstein said.

“The brand to the consumer [marketing] is dead, ”he said. “If you are a brand, you can no longer advertise to consumers. It has to be consumer to consumer, which is why brands want to start in communities, and hopefully people in communities talk about the product. ”

Snark public can pay, sometimes

The public snark can sometimes result in a productive partnership, which benefits both the brand and the creator.

One of the most high-profile cases happened in 2020 with Epic Games, the parent company of the Fortnite game.

Epic Games ended up working closely with actress Ana Coto, who in early 2020 went viral with a roller-skating routine to the song “Jenny From The Block”. Coto had posted a side by side video from his original TikTok from March 2020 with a clip of Fortnite’s nearly identical Freewheelin ‘dance emote, which was added to the game that summer.

“Flat but no dance credit?” Coto captioned the video TikTok.

A week later, Fortnite attributed the dance as “inspired by” Coto, who ultimately worked with the game to create another skate-themed emote.

Epic Games had been criticized in the past, and even sued, for using viral TikTok dances as in-game emotes without crediting the original creators who choreographed the dance. Although Epic Games started giving emotes to creators last year, like “Renegade” choreographer Jaliaiah Harmon, other creators at TikTok still accused Fortnite of using their likenesses without permission.

Now, however, the company is reportedly paying creators directly to use their viral dances, and includes attribution on emote lists in the game’s online store, Billboard reported last year.

Coto did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment. Epic Games, which declined to comment, directed NBC News to previous comments made to Billboard.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a choice we’re making to correct a mistake from the past,” Nate Nanzer, Head of Partnerships at Epic Games. told Billboard in March 2021 the decision to pay creators for their choreography.

“When we thought about this program, honestly it wasn’t even a question. We said to ourselves, “Of course we have to pay the creators. We wanted to make sure we could tag them in the posts. [and] also work with these people from a marketing point of view and make sure we give them the proper credit.

Some designers prefer to stir the pot when it comes to calling out brands.

Since launching as an anonymous fashion account in 2014, Instagram Diet Prada, for example, has acted as an online whistleblower calling attention to injustices in the creative industry.

The account, which has 2.9 million subscribers, is known to shame luxury fashion brands and fast fashion chains for copying the work of lesser-known marginalized designers.

Diet Prada’s approach to seeking digital justice has been criticized as bordering on sensationalism and bad taste – the account known to have canceled others was last canceled for criticizing Kanye West’s Yeezy collaboration with Gap with statements referring to the rapper’s controversial political positions.

The post, that Diet Prada later excused and deleted, did not recognize Mowalola Ogunlesi, the black designer at the head of the collaboration.

Diet Prada declined to comment on the story.

Other designers, like Amina Mucciolo, end up resorting to lawsuits against brands.

Mucciolo, a black artist who goes by studiomucci on Instagram and Twitter, is known for his whimsical, rainbow personal style. Their apartment, which they named Cloudland, featured pastel cabinets, vibrant furniture, and a handful of rainbow accents.

In 2019, Mucciolo followers pointed out the similarities between their apartment interior and that of 90s-themed Lisa Frank pop-up to stay. Mucciolo was invited to preview the pop-up, which was in front of their apartment in a building owned by the same management company as Mucciolo’s. The pop-up was eerily similar to Mucciolo’s apartment, until the almost identical layout.

Mucciolo alleged on Twitter that they and their partner were evicted from their apartment over the dispute with Lisa Frank, after their landlord refused to accept their rent.

That same year, toy maker MGA Entertainment released a LOL Surprise doll that strikingly resembled a hairstyle Mucciolo wore in a 2018 Instagram post. They refrained from talking about it until Bratz, who Also owned by MGA Entertainment, released last year in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mucciolo said The magazine in 2020 that they found the post to be hollow and MGA Entertainment did not provide them with proof that the company started developing the doll until Mucciolo’s Instagram post was released.

Mucciolo declined to comment for NBC News.

Representatives for MGA Entertainment and Lisa Frank did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

In a June 2020 tweet, MGA Entertainment said it wanted to “clear the air” regarding Mucciolo’s allegations.

“We have seen the allegations and take it seriously. We apologize for the delay but felt it was important to review the timeline and facts internally,” MGA Entertainment wrote. “Rainbow Raver was designed by one of our talented black designers, a now successful fashion entrepreneur, who confirmed the doll was not based on Amina Mucciolo.”

A month later, Mucciolo announced in a blog post that they take legal action against MGA Entertainment. They said they were able to hire a lawyer with the support of a crowdfunding campaign.

“MGA uses this historic fight for the liberation of blacks to sell toys in one breath and then to denounce and discredit me in another. All because I tried to point out that they were guilty of the very injustices committed against them. the blacks they claimed to oppose, ”Mucciolo wrote in his blog post.

“And while it’s common knowledge that big corporations routinely rob independent artists, it happens to black creatives more than you might imagine. But because of racism, when we talk about these things, we aren’t. usually not believed, silenced or worse yet.! “

More than a year later, these experiences have left Mucciolo discouraged.

I tried to defend myself, and I do not regret it “, wrote Mucciolo in a blog post in September 2021. “But it took me so much and it continues to wear out. At the end of the day I can’t afford to fight for Amina’s past anymore, I have to fight for this one. And that means using everything I have to survive and keep making art. “

Mucciolo later wrote that “I’m not famous enough to convince a judge” and “I didn’t invent rainbow hair and clothes” were “real things my lawyers told me. long after they took care of my case ”.

“The truth is, we haven’t gone out, but we’re definitely down,” Mucciolo wrote. “We need support and help in all its forms, I hate to admit it. I have been humiliated and been the victim of intimidation, harassment and scrutiny every time whether I’m talking about my experience or asking for help. But I’m still here, and since you are too, I promise to be honest. “

The publication of shame has one line

It may be justified to publicly raise concerns about the similarities between the creators’ work, but posting in anger may jeopardize any chance the brand will rectify the situation by working with the creator in future collaborations, Morgenstein said.

He advises creators to avoid posting anything vitriolic against a brand.

A public withdrawal is unlikely to be catalyze change beyond scorching bridges, noted Morgenstein, citing the huge company Proctor and Gamble as an example.

If the company used a creator’s work without permission, seeking legal advice would be more effective than inciting a campaign against Proctor and Gamble.

Bad press won’t bring down such a great business, especially if it’s fleeting.

“And everyone’s like, for two days, ‘Proctor and Gamble, hashtag Proctor and Gamble [expletive] you. “said Morgenstein.” Then after that it goes. And if there was any legitimacy, it would have to be dealt with … You have to sue him legally because there is no You can’t ruin a brand through social media.

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