Photographer Gets DKNY To Pay $25K to the YMCA After Copyright Infringement


NYC-based street photographer Brandon Stanton’s work has attracted quite a few eyes since he launched his Humans of New York photo project in 2010. Among those eyes were marketing folk at the clothing company DKNY.

Stanton and DKNY had a copyright infringement scuffle yesterday that resulted in DKNY donating $25,000 to the YMCA.

It all started a few months ago when DKNY approached Stanton to license 300 of his photos to decorate its stores around the world. They offered a one-time payment of $15,000, or $50 per photograph. Stanton believed the rate was too low for such a large company with a such a big budget, so he asked for more. DKNY said “no,” and that was that.

…or so Stanton thought.

Yesterday, Stanton received a photo from one of his fans showing a DKNY store in Bangkok, Thailand. The window display at the front of the store was covered with Stanton’s photographs, used with his knowledge, and without any compensation:


Instead of sending an angry letter and invoice to DKNY, Stanton turned to his Facebook page and his 500,000+ fans there. After detailing what had happened, he wrote,

I don’t want any money. But please SHARE this post if you think that DKNY should donate $100,000 on my behalf to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. That donation would sure help a lot of deserving kids go to summer camp. I’ll let you guys know if it happens.

The simple post was liked and shared tens of thousands of times and received thousands of comments. Within 24 hours, Stanton received this response from DKNY:

Since its founding in 1989, DKNY has been inspired by and incorporated authentic New York into its imagery. For our Spring 2013 store window visuals we decided to celebrate the city that is in our name by showcasing “Only in NYC” images. We have immense respect for Brandon Stanton aka Humans of New York and approached him to work with us on this visual program. He declined to participate in the project.

For the Spring 2013 windows program, we licensed and paid for photos from established photography service providers. However, 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.

Although the amount is significantly less than the $100,000 he was asking for, Stanton has decided to “take them at their word that it was a mistake,” and is pleased with the result.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Robert!

Image credits: Photographs by Brandon Stanton/Humans of New York

  • Matt

    A decent resolution. It is very good of him to have the money donated. He obviously knows of a need in that community.

  • Samcornwell

    I read this and saw lots of my photographer friends sharing it with the same sort of horror expressed by Stanton. But honestly, no matter how big the company is offering the $15,000. They offered $15,000! That’s enough for an entire new bag full of camera gear and a month’s vacation in New York. It just feels like the whole “we are artists and we should get paid” is getting a little bit out of hand.

  • Jordan

    Asking for more than $50 per photograph from a company as big as DKNY to be used in a worldwide retail campaign is hardly being greedy is it?

  • Jonathan Maniago

    No tantrums, no lawsuits, good publicity. It could have been much worse.

  • Getreal

    A gear bag and a vacation? How about rent, food, insurance and a car payment comes first? Don’t forget those federal, state and city income taxes for an NYC resident, that take almost half your earnings.

  • Martin

    You can’t just say its a big company therefore they should pay loads. I often work as an archive researcher and have to licence stills, I always have a very strict budget to work on.

    $50 per image when you are licencing as many as 300 seems a very reasonable offer especially considering the very small amount of exposure a temporary retail campaign will get in comparison to a television or book licence.

    The photographer has every right to turn them down and that should be the end of it. Saying DKNY should pay over the odds just because they are a big company or that the photographer is greedy just because he thinks his work is worth more are both ludicrous positions to take.

  • Yuksel Pinarbasi

    I didn’t like the solution myself. He should sue them and make them an example; after that he could donate the money wherever hi likes. He wanted 100K, they paid one quarter of it, this isn’t enough to teach them a lesson on copyright infrigment.

  • Mansgame

    So rather than getting $15,000 for street”photography” which is way too much in my opinion, he instead made $25,000 for YMCA, one of the most expensive places to go to the gym? They charge about $80 a person a month…they don’t need money.

  • ilo photo

    Exactly what I thought; do lawyers run out and replace their computer and all the paper in the office every time they make some money? No, they use it to continue to live and do business, just like every other profession (incl. pro photographers) does.

  • Alex Neuman

    Agree 100% – though it’s been a while since I’ve had a decent donut that cost me less than a dollar.. =(

  • ilo photo

    DKNY sought HIM out, meaning the work he had already done in purchasing camera gear, refining his craft, hours of photo taking and processing, promoting himself (you don’t automatically get hundreds of thousands of followers on multiple SM platforms), and so on was already found to be valuable by those at DKNY.
    Stanton took all those aforementioned costs of doing business into account and decided that $50/image was not sufficient enough, which is totally his choice and I applaud him for it. He knows what he is worth.

  • Halfrack

    The problem is that Brandon wants to have DKNY as a repeat customer. At some level, this was handled well, if for no other reason, it gives DKNY an easy out publicly. It sucks he didn’t get paid, and yes $15k isn’t that much when you think they’re spending way more than that per store to have these displays done up.

  • Steven Barall

    What about the model releases? This is not an editorial usage, this is advertising. Each model should be getting at least $5000.

  • tomy2t0ne

    If the photos were properly copyrighted he would have a federal copyright violation case. He would have settled for far more than 25,000 and he could have donated the 25,000 to the Ymca to be a nice guy and offset his taxes! He should have taught them a lesson.

  • D Black

    Clearly this worked well for everyone involved – the PR is free – the charitable donation was budgeted already – and enormous wom marketing for photog. God Bless America!

  • Jay

    Good money to buy a Leica M, a couple of Leica lenses and two nice vacations. Greedy me :)))

  • Rob S

    So they offered to pay $15,000. He says no. They use his images without permission. he extracts a $25,000 donation to YMCA. The donation is tax deductible and they get a lot of positive press for supporting youth. Sorry but this is just going to lead to other companies doing the same math and deciding it cheaper to take a chance on getting caught. In fact in this case DKNY came out ahead by breaking the law.

    I have to agree with Jack Reznicki – he should have gotten the lawyers involved and made the donation to the YMCA himself.

  • Rob S

    RIght so you are going to create a display with 300 images taken by different photographers and get the desired look and feel you want? I think not. And how much are you going to pay a designer to cruise through flickr to find 300 acceptable images. And of course its not 300 that you need because you need 300 that you can actually license. 300 from people who respond to a request and are willing to sign away the rights for less than $50. And you are wrong on the micro stock. For something this big even the lowest level images are going to cost more than $50 for something like this – not that the photographer would get $50 but the MS company will. And all of that ignores the most important fact – they wanted his pictures because they were better.

  • Rob S

    dont kid yourself – DKNY will spend more than $15000 for booze at their next event. The going rate for something like this – at the bottom end – is $250 per image. And thats for a nobody like me. Its not about artist being paid, its about business.

  • Swade

    Not to mention you have to pay the designer to spend hours upon hours findin those images that could be licensed.

  • Rytis

    Why is everyone so unhappy with this? Images belong to Stanton and if he is happy with 25000$ donated that’s fine. And he really did a nice thing to kids rather than being greedy and take DKNY to court as most of you guys would. At the end of the day Stanton made a big bunch of kids happy and another bunch of greedy trolls envious of someone else fortune.

  • Eric Crawford

    Why all the sympathy for the photographer? What about the unwitting models? Unless Mr. Stanton has model releases for all these street shots, I don’t think he has any business selling the images for this kind of use at any price.

  • thingwarbler

    You are of course entirely entitled to your opinion, and please don’t think it’s at all offensive to put dick quotes around “photography” in an attempt to belittle it. /snark. Why, exactly, is $15K “way too much” for street photography when that photography is subsequently deemed appropriate to sell overpriced clothing? It’s the usage that determines the licensing fee, not the cost of actually getting the image in the first place.

  • Martin

    In response to the yet moderated comment from Mike Panic:

    Just to make my initial comment clear. I said a very small amount of exposure in comparison to television or book deals. I work in TV so I know what the going rate is for worldwide/nationwide licences lasting years and reaching audiences of millions.

    We pay anything from $50 – $800 per still depending on the size of the licence and if we can negotiate a bulk deal. In this usage I considered the fee offered by DKNY to be reasonable.

    While I completely understand advertising campaigns are different and you do pay a premium for the work/name of artist allied to a campaign, DKNY didn’t particularly want this they were after a look. It isn’t like they couldn’t find very similar photographs from a stock library for a fraction of the price.

    None of this excuses DKNY using the photographs once the copyright holder had rejected the offered fee. Ultimately a product, service or artwork is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it and what someone is prepared to sell it for. You could say, therefore, these photographs are priceless/worthless!

  • Jack Reznicki

    Martin, When an offer is made and it’s rejected by the copyright holder, and they company goes ahead and uses it, it’s a serious “willfull” infringement and is now subject to statutory damages in the eyes of the law. It goes beyond what one would “normally” pay. There is a penalty for stealing, as that’s what this is. If there wasn’t a penalty, stealing would be more rampant than it currently is. And since you work in advertising, you know campaigns aren’t “errors” that just pop up. These are serious business ventures. “Looks” are worth big money. I know one photographer who licensed a “look” to a European firm for a high, mid-six figures I also know photographers who work on International campaigns that get 6 figure fees. $50-$800 per still?! Not from someone like me. And if someone infringed on DKNY’s copyright or trademark, they wouldn’t be so nonchalant. It’s a shame that too many photographers these days don’t know the true value of their photos and their intellectual property.

  • Martin

    At no point have I defended DKNY for stealing Brandon’s photographs. I didn’t say I worked in advertising, I work in television. I suggest you compose a comment rebutting what I actually said before jumping to conclusions and fighting a strawman argument.

    Looks can be worth big money, however the ‘look’ in this case was photographs of people of New York. Its hardly ground breaking original material that hasn’t been done to death by countless others. I’m sorry if that sounds a little harsh, but in this instance I don’t think the photographer’s work was worth that much. I don’t want to get into an artistic merit debate; his photographs look fantastic, just not particularly original.

    There is a massive difference to hiring a photographer for an international campaign (I assume you mean ads in magazines, billboards etc) to wanting to licence the use of some stills for shop displays.

    Once again I have to repeat, this doesn’t excuse what DKNY did. My initial comment was to further the discussion as to how much the material was worth.

    As to the ‘true value’ of a photographer’s photos. In a purely commercial sense it is worth what people are prepared to pay for it, nothing more nothing less.

  • Gene Smith

    You GO Jack!