Did Starbucks Steal From Artist Ophelia Chong? [Updated]


It’s not unusual for big companies to be accused of stealing from the little guys. (Remember that whole Urban Outfitters drama earlier this year?) And we’re the first to admit that sometimes really good ideas happen to come to different people at the same time. But it’s hard to imagine that the most recent case — involving artist Ophelia Chong, who was informed last Friday by a student that Starbucks’ packaging design looked quite a lot like something Chong herself had created — is somehow the coincidence of creative minds thinking alike. As Hyperallergic puts it, “Ophelia Chong’s work looks a hell of a lot like that Starbucks illustration.”

Via Hyperallergic:

I asked Chong what it felt like when she saw the evidence for herself. This is what she responded with via email:

Scene: 30 seconds of staring at my cellphone with the image sent by my student.
Ophelia: WTF.WTF. OH MY GOD.
They are diluting my work, my brand.

Chong, who has posted her work on Flickr since 2006 and had a website since 2000, has obtained legal counsel and plans to fight what she sees as a clear case of copyright violation — she writes on her site, OpheliaSwims, where she posts images of her work and Starbucks’ design, “I want a Chong Collage Venti, free please.”

She continues,

Today I was made aware they completely ripped off my illustration style, of which I have been creating since 2004. My work is in over 5 books, gallery shows from Brooklyn to Barcelona, multiple websites and I am repped in NYC. Now why would they not pay me to do it? Because they have a inhouse design agency that has a lack of imagination and a blatant disregard for Artist Rights.

Starbucks has a motto on their Company page ” Being a Responsible Company”. It goes only as far as their doorstep when it comes to being responsible to the rights of artists.

Chong has no plans to stop posting things online. She tells us she’s retained a copyright infringement attorney who won a $60 million case last year for a medical equipment company. They are in the process of sending a letter to Starbucks general counsel.

“[Starbucks] could have hired me and paid me anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 for this work, but instead they decided to appropriate it. I’ve been creating these collages since 2005, and there are more than 8,000 websites featuring the work, and half a million views on my Flickr,” she says. “This dilutes my brand, and is basically taking food off my plate.”

We’ve contacted Starbucks for comment.

Update, Friday, 11/18: Chong informs us that she’ll be dropping the potential lawsuit. She says, “When I first saw the packaging, I was a mix of surprised and hurt. Then an emotion that should be kept in check surfaced, Pride. It became about Me and my Work….I could see bits of myself in the Starbucks artwork, but then I wasn’t sure. And not being sure meant that I let go. Letting go means I am moving forward and going back to doing what I do. My attorney gave me good counsel and let me decide what I wanted to do. And I decided to move on.”

She adds that it’s up to each artist whether or not to take on a fight with a big company and says, “My work could’ve inspired Starbucks, but then again it could’ve been created completely outside of my influence; I will never know.”

Artist Lawyers Up After Realizing Starbucks Swiped Her Style [Hyperallergic]