Creators are turning to public shaming to demand compensation from brands they say don’t attribute them
Designer Cecelia Monge has found herself in a spat with Converse after accusing the shoe brand of using her designs, which she submitted in 2019, in its National Parks collection.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence, and it’s kind of unfortunate when big companies ‘borrow’ from smaller designers,” Monge said in May in a TikTok video, which garnered 22.8 million likes. views. Converse denied the charges in a comment to a post on Diet Prada’s Instagram account.
Monge, who did not respond to a request for comment, and the shoe brand, which also did not respond to a request for comment, have never partnered.
But months later, in October, Monge was offered a new opportunity: to create a clothing collection using her original national park-inspired designs in collaboration with underwear brand Shinesty. The collection is almost exhausted.
While some creators may seek legal retaliation for work they believe has been stolen, few have the resources to go after well-known brands. Calling brands online, however, is free.
And that’s why many creators, like Monge, are increasingly taking to social media to call out brands they believe aren’t crediting and compensating them properly.
Copyright laws regarding creative work are not always clear, and people who post online risk having their work plagiarized and distributed without credit. Big companies have long had the upper hand in collaborating with creators, especially those with smaller platforms.
The tide is turning in favor of paying creators, but is it really worth calling on brands to use allegedly plagiarized works?
It depends, said Evan Morgenstein, the CEO of influencer talent agency The Digital Renegades, which manages partnerships between creators and brands.
From brand to 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 big company, Morgenstein said.
From brand to consumer [marketing] died,” 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 I hope people in communities talk about the product.
Public snark can pay, sometimes
Public snark can sometimes lead to 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 actor Ana Coto, who went viral in early 2020 with a roller skating routine to the song “Jenny From the Block”. Coto had posted a side-by-side video of his original March 2020 TikTok video with a clip of Fortnite’s almost identical dance emote Freewheelin’, which was added to the game that summer.
“Flattered but no dance credit?” Coto captioned the TikTok video.
A week later, Fortnite credited the dance as having been “inspired by” Coto, who eventually 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 dances. Although Epic Games began attributing emotes to creators last year, such as “Renegade” choreographer Jaliaiah Harmon, other TikTok creators still accused Fortnite of using likenesses of their work without permission.
Now, however, the company is reportedly paying creators directly to use their viral dances, and that includes attribution on emote lists in the game’s online store, Billboard reported last year.
Coto did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Epic Games, which declined to comment, referenced previous comments it made to Billboard.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a choice we’re making to correct a mistake of the past,” Epic Games Head of Partnerships Nate Nanzer said. told Billboard in March of the move to paid creators.
“When we were thinking about this program, honestly, it wasn’t even a question,” Nanzer said. “We said to ourselves, ‘Of course, we have to compensate the creators. We wanted to make sure we could tag them in posts [and] also work with these people from a marketing perspective and make sure we give them proper credit.
Some creators prefer to stir the pot when it comes to calling brands.
Since its launch as an anonymous fashion account in 2014, Instagram account 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 followers, is known for shaming luxury fashion brands and fast fashion chains for copying the work of lesser-known marginalized designers.
Diet Prada’s approach to pursuing digital justice has been criticized as bordering on sensationalism and poor taste – the account known to have canceled others was taken down for criticizing Kanye West’s Yeezy collaboration with the Gap with statements referring to his controversial political positions.
The post, for which Diet Prada apologized and deleted, failed to acknowledge Mowalola Ogunlesi, the black designer leading the collaboration.
Diet Prada declined to comment on the story.
Other creators, like Amina Mucciolo, end up resorting to justice.
Mucciolo, a black artist who goes by studiomucci on Instagram and Twitter, is known for his whimsical, rainbow-colored personal style. Their apartment, which they named Cloudland, featured pastel cabinetry, vibrant furniture, and a handful of rainbow accents.
In 2019, Mucciolo’s followers pointed out the similarities between the interior of their apartment and that of Lisa Frank’s ’90s-themed pop-up. Mucciolo was asked to preview the pop-up, which was across from their apartment in a building owned by the same management company that owned Mucciolo’s. The pop-up looked suspiciously like Mucciolo’s apartment, down to the nearly identical layout.
Mucciolo alleged on Twitter that they and their partner were evicted from their apartment after the argument with Lisa Frank when their landlord refused to accept their rent.
That same year, toymaker MGA Entertainment released a LOL Surprise doll that looked strikingly similar to a hairstyle Mucciolo wore in a 2018 Instagram post. They refrained from talking about it until Bratz, who also owned by MGA Entertainment, posted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
Mucciolo told Los Angeles Magazine in 2020 that they found the message hollow and that MGA Entertainment had not provided them with proof that it had begun developing the doll prior to Mucciolo’s Instagram post.
Mucciolo declined to comment.
Representatives for MGA Entertainment and Lisa Frank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
MGA Entertainment tweeted in June 2020 that it wanted to “clean things up” regarding Mucciolo’s allegations.
“We have seen the allegations and we take this 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 were taking legal action against MGA Entertainment. They said they were able to hire a lawyer with the support of a crowdfunding campaign.
“MGA is using this historic fight for black liberation to sell toys in one blast, then hit and discredit me in another. All because I tried to point out that they were guilty of the very injustices done to the Blacks they claimed to oppose,” Mucciolo wrote in his blog post.
“And while it’s common knowledge that big corporations regularly steal from independent artists, it happens to black creatives more than you can imagine. But because of racism, when we talk about these things, we’re not generally not believed, silenced or worse.”
More than a year later, the experiences left Mucciolo despondent.
“I tried to defend myself and I don’t regret it,” Mucciolo wrote in a blog post in September. “But it’s taken me so long and it keeps wearing thin. At the end of the day, I can’t afford to fight for Amina’s past anymore, I have to fight for her. And that means using everything I have to survive and keep making art.”
Mucciolo later wrote that the statements “I’m not famous enough to convince a judge” and “I didn’t invent rainbow hair and clothes” were “[a]real things my lawyers said to me long after they took over my case.”
“The truth is we’re not knocked out, but we’re definitely down,” Mucciolo wrote. “We need support and help in all forms, I don’t like to admit it. I’ve been shamed and bullied, harassed and scrutinized every time 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
Publicly raising concerns about similarities between creators’ work may be warranted, but posting rage can jeopardize any chance of a brand rectifying a situation by working with creators in future collaborations, Morgenstein said.
He advises creators to avoid posting anything vitriolic against brands.
A public withdrawal would not be likely to catalyze change beyond burning bridges, Morgenstein said, citing the huge firm Proctor & Gamble as an example.
If the company were to use a creator’s work without permission, it would be more effective to seek legal advice than to incite a campaign against it.
Bad press won’t bring down such a big business, especially if it’s short-lived.
“And everybody’s like, for two days, ‘Proctor & Gamble, hashtag Proctor & Gamble [expletive] you.” said Morgenstein. “Then after that goes away. And if there was any legitimacy to that, it would have to be remedied. … You have to go there legally, because there is no other recourse. You can’t ruin a brand through social media.