Louis Vuitton and the Streisand Effect

Hmm, that title sounds a bit like a kids’ scifi novel about a boy genius who goes to Hawking’s School of Sciencecraft and Mathemancy …or something.

But no, this is about the Louis Vuitton company bringing the full force of the Streisand Effect down upon itself. What’s the Streisand Effect? See, back in 2003, Kenneth Adelman took a photo of Barbra Streisand’s house and posted it online. Streisand, citing privacy violations, unsuccessfully sued Adelman, inadvertently bringing even more attention to the photo.

So, what’s this got to do with Louis Vuitton? In 2008, Nadia Plesner created a t-shirt design with this image on it. According to the artist, “My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small ugly dogs apparently is enough to get you on a magazine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserve and need attention.”

And more recently, she incorporated the same image into this painting.

The handbag depicted in these images is similar to a Louis Vuitton design. In 2008, they sued Plesner, over the t-shirts but apparently dropped the suit after Plesner stopped selling them. Now they’ve sued her again, this time over the painting.

And that’s where the Streisand Effect kicks in because the painting is getting a lot more attention because of the lawsuit. For example, if it weren’t for the lawsuit, I would never have seen these images and it’s likely I would never have even heard of Nadia Plesner. To be honest, I was only vaguely aware of Louis Vuitton. Up until recently, my only encounter with the name was from Sex and the City, where it was held up as the pinnacle of style and fashion.

And even if I’d seen the t-shirt or painting, I wouldn’t have associated it with Louis Vuitton. I would’ve thought, “hey look at the ugly handbag that kid’s holding”. OK, maybe not ugly but this is not what style looks like, at least not to my eye. I mean, given the choice between looking at that and, say, a pair of Converse One Stars, I’m gonna go with the sneakers.

But that’s not the point. The point is that, prior to March 2011, my mental image of Louis Vuitton was associated with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall. Now it’s lawsuits against artists.

So, because Louis Vuitton sued Nadia Plesner, I saw the painting. And because I happen to be associated with a website about art and critical thinking, you’ve seen it too. And this isn’t the only site covering the story. It’s everywhere, the exact opposite of what Louis Vuitton was trying to achieve. And that, after all, is what the Streisand Effect is all about.

Steve DeGroof

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.

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  1. Maybe they were skeptical of the truism “no such thing as bad publicity” and are embarking on a little experiment?

  2. I found an English translation of Louis Vuitton’s court order against Nadia Plesner and, from what I can tell from paragraphs 14 and 15, they’re complaining about the art exhibit (specifically the “Darfurnica” painting), plus sales of the t-shirts during the art exhibition. Granted, the translation came from Plesner’s attorneys but I would hope it’s a faithful translation:

  3. It would be downright selfdestructive (not to say illegal!) to mistranslate from a court order, so it is safe to say it is accurate.

    While agreeing to stop using the LV design (paragraph 12), Plesner violated that agreement, by again selling products with the imagery of the LV Audra bag (paragraph 14-16). Thus, it is clearly a case of protecting intellectual property rights, not suppressing a work of art.

    LV would have a much more difficult case, had Plesner only used the image of the bag in her painting, a unica piece of art (even if it is priced at 500,000 DKR, a seemingly exorbitant price for a work of art from an artist not exactly known for anything else than this LV brouhaha). Using the imagery on flyers, invitations and on the website, could also be seen as merely promoting the art exhibition itself.

    But when you additionally start (again!) mass-producing tshirts and other items, it does get a bit hard to argue that you are merely ars gratia artis’ing here, and exercising your freedom of speech. That’s the art of commerce, not the art of art.

    It will be interesting to see how this case plays out.

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