DKNY's Public Relations Nightmare Continues Over Unauthorized Use Of Humans Of New York Photos

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By Connor Adams Sheets | February 27, 2013 2:37 AM EST

DKNY's public relations nightmare continued Tuesday, a day after the company took steps to end a controversy that had gone viral the day before.

The spat began Monday as the massive fan base of photographer Brandon Stanton -- the man behind the Humans of New York empire -- took to social media to slam the fashion giant for using his images without first getting his permission.

The artist, who has amassed more than 500,000 Facebook 'likes' by taking artistic portratits of New Yorkers on the street and posting them each day across multiple platforms, caused a massive online backlash against DKNY on Monday, when he made a public statement on his Website and Facebook page describing the company's unauthorized use of his work, which DKNY has since acknowledged: 

"Several months ago, I was approached by a representative of DKNY who asked to purchase 300 of my photos to hang in their store windows 'around the world,'" he explained. "They offered me $15,000. A friend in the industry told me that $50 per photo was not nearly enough to receive from a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue. So I asked for more money. They said 'no.' Today, a fan sent me a photo from a DKNY store in Bangkok. The window is full of my photos. These photos were used without my knowledge, and without compensation."

Stanton then went on to make a public plea for DKNY to "donate $100,000 on my behalf to the YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn." He wrote that the "donation would sure help a lot of deserving kids go to summer camp. I'll let you guys know if it happens."

By 10 a.m. Tuesday the Facebook post had generated more than 38,000 "likes" and more than 4,000 comments, and had led to direct action on behalf of DKNY. The company released a statement Monday afternoon explaining its error and announcing that it would donate $25,000 to the Bed-Stuy YMCA.

"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," the company wrote. "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."

The company's swift response seemed to come about in response to the furious online reaction to Stanton's original post, which went viral almost immediately, eventually even landing on the front page of Reddit in the form of an Imgur link that generated more than 300,000 views by 10 a.m. Tuesday. The official Humans of New York Facebook account released a statement endorsing DKNY's move, and explaining to Stanton's supporters that he is satisfied with the result.

"$25k will help a lot of kids at the YMCA," Stanton wrote. "I know a lot of you would like to have seen the full $100k, but we are going to take them at their word that it was a mistake, and be happy that this one had a happy ending. Thanks so much for your support, everyone."

But the donation -- which only amounted to one-quarter of what Stanton asked for -- didn't appease many of HONY's fans, who continued Tuesday morning to post messages lambasting the company both on its and the Humans of New York Facebook pages.

Nova Scotian Facebooker Crystal Carmichael, for instance, shared her thoughts with the company directly by posting the following comment on its official Facebook page:

"Do you not have lawyers? Or a clear understanding of copyright laws? Or a conscience?"

And U.K. resident Daniel "Link" Ward posted the following slam on the page a short while before Carmichael:

"Companies like you are scum, it's hard enough for creative's to get a foothold in life without people like you ripping us off. Sort your lives out."

It appears that the debacle could even have an impact on sales, as some commenters, including Imgur user BridgetGraham, have posted comments stating that they will no longer buy clothes from the clothier, or that they regret having done so in the past.

"NOOO. I just bought a DKNY coat. Regrets," BridgetGraham wrote in her comment on the thread for the Imgur link that went viral Monday.

It remains to be seen how much longer the P.R. headache will continue for DKNY, but the controversy should serve as a reminder to companies throughout the world that social media is powerful, and it has the ability to impact a firm's optics on a global scale.

A DKNY representative did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday morning.

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