After 4 years of rich collaboration, SAS Yves Saint Laurent and its former director of creation and images are entering their fifth year of legal battle. Since his departure in March 2016, there are many points of disagreement between the French designer Hedi Slimane and the Californian consulting company that he chairs, on the one hand, and the famous fashion house today belonging to the Pinault-Printemps -Redoute group, that became Kering, on the other hand.
The protagonists of this legal saga oppose in particular the payment of additional remuneration to the stylist, but also the payment of compensation in return for the obligation of non-competition which was contractually imposed on him, or even on the unilateral termination of a shareholders’ agreement that the artistic director challenged. So far, the various magistrates seized have won the case for Hedi Slimane, who has thus obtained YSL’s conviction to pay a total sum of more than 20 million euros. These trials are still ongoing.
The copyright of photographer and videographer Hedi Slimane has also been at the heart of the legal dispute between him and his former “employer”. The former artistic director of YSL, now that of the house of Céline belonging to the competing group LVMH, considers that the company YSL infringed his copyright on its photographs and videos produced for 48 advertising campaigns between 2012 and 2016 by reproducing, distributing and representing it on its website without his authorization and without mentioning his name as an author beyond the 2-year period provided for in their contract.
Rejected on December 7, 2017 by the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, which considered that copyright infringement was not constituted, the magistrates of the Paris Court of Appeal have just ruled in favor of Hedi Slimane in a judgment of June 19, 2020 in condemning YSL for forgery.
Unlike the Tribunal, the Court considers that there is indeed an act of infringement of the rights of the author of the photographs and videos, refuting the arguments of YSL which invoked the freedom of communication, the freedom of expression, but also a non-exclusive and unlimited time archive right that would result from the economy of the contract and the uses of the profession.
The Courts grant Hedi Slimane’s request and, after recalling that “copyright contracts must be interpreted restrictively in favor of the author“, indicate that it emerges in this case from the various documents communicated by the parties that the author of the photographs and videos has not expressly authorized the use of his works without remuneration beyond a period of 2 years, nor has he expressly waived his economic rights . And the fact that the artist did not immediately assert his rights at the end of these 2 years “cannot be interpreted as a tolerance generating rights for the company YSL since the tolerance has no effect in copyright ”.
The Court of Appeal also recalled that “freedom of expression or communication (…) is not unlimited” and cannot justify the violation of the rights of the author, whose photographic production could not be broadcast here, represented and reproduced beyond the period initially negotiated without his express authorization and without adequate remuneration, evaluated in this case at 6,000 euros per campaign in dispute and per year of re-use, each campaign having been initially invoiced 50,000 euros by Hedi Slimane. The damage is thus evaluated at 618,000 euros, against the 10.2 million claimed by the artist in his summons.
We do not know if SAS Yves Saint Laurent has filed or intends to appeal to the Court of Cassation against this judgment, which also orders the company to pay the stylist 80,000 euros in legal costs.
Julie Raignault, attorney at the Court
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Gramond & Associés is a business law firm. It notably supports art market players in securing their projects and in defending their interests.