Counterfeit Kaws merchandise: Singaporean ordered to pay S$1.2m in damages and cease sales

A Singaporean owner of an online art decor shop has been found guilty of wilfully infringing the copyright of American artist Brian Donnelly, aka Kaws.

According to a report by ArtNet, the United States Southern District Court of New York on May 2 ruled that Dylan Joy An Leong Yi Zhi, owner of The Penthouse Theory and The Penthouse Collective has been ordered to pay US$900,000 (S$1.2 million) in damages to Donnelly for producing and selling replicas of his works.

Leong was also ordered to stop the sale of the replicas that were made in the form of skateboards, plush dolls, sculptures, figurines, posters, and rugs among others, which were marketed as original merchandise with Kaws’ trademarks.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2021. Court documents stated that Leong had 154 “counterfeit items” that were sold for between US$59 and US$3,299.

Donnelly said that his team spends at least US$40,000 a year to identify counterfeit goods and issue takedown notices.

The court awarded US$50,000 for each of Leong’s product categories that violated trademark laws, which totaled to US$900,000. Leong’s websites, which described the products as “custom hand-reworked reproductions” for “low prices”, proved that he knew he was selling counterfeit and infringing goods, according to the court.

The Kaws items on The Penthouse Theory site have been removed. There are also other works purportedly by famed artists such as Banksy, Basquiat, Takashi Murakami and Andy Warhol listed.

In 2021, Hong Kong-based studio AllRightsReserved was sued for defamation during the Kaws: Holiday Singapore exhibition at The Float @ Marina Bay by local art nonprofit The Ryan Foundation, who said the event violated intellectual property rights and confidentiality.

The exhibition, which featured a giant 42-meter inflatable art installation, had to close for days before the court order was lifted.

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