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why the estate of dash snow is suing mcdonald’s

Having discovered the late artist’s graffiti tags displayed inside hundreds of European and Asian fast food restaurants, members of the his family are taking legal action against the Golden Arches.

by Emily Manning
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Oct 4 2016, 5:00pm

Dash Snow's "SACE" tag on the wall of a Brixton McDonald's, which sparked controversy in the community earlier this year

There is a 24-hour McDonalds on West 3rd Street and 6th Avenue that has the best piece of art I've ever seen in any restaurant. Just above the counter is a large, possibly papier-mâché, installation of a basketball game, no doubt inspired by the neighboring West 4th Street basketball courts. Judging by its zany visual style (and the dust covering it), the piece was installed around the same time as the iconic McDonald's commercial in which Larry Bird squares off against Michael Jordan aired, during the 1993 Super Bowl. The papier-mâché game is set against the Big Apple's bright skyline; there's even a three-dimensional taxi driver yelling at the players from the corner — how much more New York could you get? Even if dated, it still feels community oriented and fun.

The same can not be said for a refurbished McDonald's in London's Brixton neighborhood, where graffiti-themed centerpieces and wall-reliefs aren't sitting so well with members of the gentrifying community. In March of this year, the Evening Standard reported that locals found these artworks "offensive" and "misguided." As it turns out, the Brixton McDonald's graffiti is also a cherished work of NYC art — by the late downtown legend Dash Snow.

Though Snow's practice expanded to include video, photography, and often controversial collages, he got an early start out on the street. In the late 90s, Snow was a graffiti writer known as SACE, and ran with the IRAK crew (in Ryan McGinley's words, "the biggest vandals in the city"). It's the SACE tag that appears in not only the Brixton McDonalds, but also hundreds of other Mickey D's outposts throughout Europe and Asia. Now, members of Snow's family are taking legal action.

The mother of Snow's daughter, Secret, told a California federal court on Monday that "McDonald's Corp. is using copies of street art by the late Dash Snow to decorate its stores without his estate's permission and in defiance of his lifetime refusal to associate with 'corporate consumerism,'" Law360 reports. The suit includes claims for copyright infringement, falsification of copyright management information, and unfair competition. However, there might be some legal loopholes McDonald's has yet to reveal in the use of Snow's tags.

Back in 2011, Flickr users began spotting REVS and COST graffiti tags inside a French McDonald's. Gothamist's Jake Dobkin revealed some interesting insight in the photo's comments section at the time: "Basically McDonalds used some pix from one of Hugo Martinez's books without permission. So he got pretty upset — but when he called, it turned out that they had actually licensed the pix from the French publisher of the book," Dobkin wrote. However, the French version of the book didn't have any reprint rights, so Martinez successfully lobbied the fast food chain to pay him and photographers for each picture used. "I'm pretty sure the Revs/Cost is a blowup of one of my pix, b/c they sent me a check," said Dobkin. McDonald's has received multiple requests from Snow's family members and Jade Berreau (who manages Snow's estate) to cease use of the SACE tags, but has chosen to ignore them until yesterday's court proceedings. If the chain is using a similar loophole to access Snow's work, it hasn't yet been disclosed.

"Nothing is more antithetical to Mr. Snow's outsider 'street cred' than association with corporate consumerism — of which McDonald's and its marketing are the epitome," said Berreau, adding that the use of Snow's artworks, which have landed high price tags at auctions, are insulting to his memory. "Mr. Snow is now wide open to charges of 'selling out.'" 

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Text Emily Manning