Luck Runs Out on Hayuk: Hayuk v. Starbucks Corp.

By: Stephanie Costa

In Hayuk v. Starbucks Corp., the court dismissed Maya Hayuck’s claim that Starbucks Corporation (“Starbucks”) and 72andSunny Partners, LLC (“72andSunny”) used her artwork in their Mini Frappuccino Campaign. Maya Hayuck is a world famous visual artist known for her style of work that utilizes a layering of bright colors and hues and geometric patterns such as rays, lines, stripes and circles.[1] Hayuck is also notorious for suing people for appropriating her art.[2] On May 2015 Starbucks with assistance of the advertising agency, 72andSunny, introduced its Mini Frappuccino in a cup with a bright, colorful, geometric ray graphic not dissimilar to Hayuck’s works.[3] Hayuck filed the instant lawsuit on June 23, 2015 making five claims of copyright infringement against Starbuck and 72andSunny, and she filed an additional claim of contributory infringement against 72andSunny.[4] Hayuck claims the ad campaign used five of her works: (1) Hands Across the Universe, (2) The Universe, (3) The Universe II, (4) Sexy Gazebo, and (5) Kites #1.[5] Hayuck alleges that the defendants had contacted her about using her work for a “Frappuccino Campaign” and she declined their offer.[6] Starbucks and 72andSunny chose to take Hayuck to court rather than settle.

To establish copyright infringement, the court considered whether Hayuck could prove (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of essential elements of an original work.[7] The second prong requires evidence that: (1) the defendants actually copied Hayuck’s work; and (2) the defendant’s work is substantially similar to the protectable elements of Hayuck’s work.[8] Hayuck did not allege the defendants made an exact copy of her work, but rather that they appropriated the concept and feel of her work.[9] As known in copyright law, the law does not protect ideas, only the expression of ideas – similarly, raw materials like colors and shapes are public domain.[10]

The court found that both the Frappuccino Campaign and Hayuck’s work contained similar raw material, but the Frappuccino Campaign did not copy Hayuck’s work and the court cannot subject raw materials to copyright protection.[11] Upon a side by side comparison of Hayuck’s works rotated in different ways and the Frappuccino, the court found that a reasonable jury would never find the works substantially similar.[12] Consequently the court granted Starbuck’s and 72andSunny’s motion to dismiss Hayuck’s claim.

Although the court came to the right decision, it may have overstepped the boundaries of its discretion when deciding that no reasonable jury would find there was copyright infringement against Hayuk’s works. The decision is nevertheless correct because the Frappuccino Campaign only slightly resembles Hayuk’s works. Also, Hayuk has sued at least four brands for using her commission work at Bowery Wall in New York City as a backdrop for their photos or videos – a copyright issue different from this case.[13] Nevertheless, Hayuk seemed to develop a sense of entitlement to use of bright colors and geometric shapes that define her style, but the court brought her back down to Earth.

The court’s decision will likely have a large impact in the New York artist community. The court reminded the New York Art Community, one of the most influential art communities in the world, that the law does not protect style and ideas. The court reminds artists that the law only entitles them to the protections of their actual creations. Although paying artist for their works is important, the law should not stifle creativity at the hands of litigious artist. Should Picasso be the only artist allowed to paint cubism, Dali the only surrealist? No! Hayuk does not own colorful triangles.

[1] Hayuk v. Starbucks Corp., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3493, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 12, 2016).

[2] Ryan Steadman, Did Starbucks Steal Maya Hayuk’s Art—Or Does She Just Sue a Lot?, Observer, June 26, 2015, http://observer.com/2015/06/artist-maya-hayuk-sues-again-this-time-its-starbucks/.

[3] Press Release, Starbucks, Responding to Customers, Starbucks Launches the Mini Frappuccino (May 11, 2015) (https://news.starbucks.com/news/starbucks-launches-the-mini-frappuccino).

[4] Hayuk, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3493, at *8.

[5] Id. at *2.

[6] Id. at *6.

[7] Id. at *9.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at *10.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at *19.

[12] Id. at *13-14, 19.

[13] Ryan Steadman, Did Starbucks Steal Maya Hayuk’s Art—Or Does She Just Sue a Lot?, Observer, June 26, 2015, http://observer.com/2015/06/artist-maya-hayuk-sues-again-this-time-its-starbucks/.

 

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