An oversight by ITV and Netflix may have led to a copyright infringement case against toymaker LEGO – one of many reasons to get clearance for any artwork used in a show.
How are these companies connected in this story? In Netflix’s Queer Eye series, artist James Concannon’s artwork was showcased on a leather jacket that he made for one of the Fab Five, Antoni Porowski. When LEGO made a Queer Eye-themed set, this is the piece they decided to feature – the Antoni LEGO character sports it.
This was not the first time that Antoni had worn something of Concannon’s. The two bonded over Porowski’s admiration of Concannon’s work. As their friendship grew, Concannon offered Porowski several custom pieces to use as wardrobe on the show. ITV obtained signed releases from Concannon for most of these pieces worn on the show.
What is strange about the custom leather jacket is that the Queer Eye producers seem to have skipped the release signature for this one. And this is where things get messier: Concannon is suing LEGO for copyright infringement. He believes that he should receive a piece of the $5 billion company’s pie for this artwork contribution.
Who Has a Stronger Case: Concannon or LEGO?
Although the friendship that blossomed between Concannon and Porowski may warm the heart, it also complicates matters. Because Concannon gave Porowski the custom leather jacket as a gift, that could be interpreted as “implied license.”
The reasoning: Concannon knew that Porowski would wear the jacket on the show when he gifted it. If he had not wanted the jacket to appear on Queer Eye, he should not have supplied it freely.
That being said, the LEGO version of the jacket was clearly inspired by Concannon’s design. But the jacket itself was not copyrighted. Concannon’s registration was for the artwork occupying the jacket. And LEGO’s jacket does not showcase an exact replica of that artwork.
So what is LEGO really infringing? According to one lawyer’s Twitter thread analysis, Concannon has a case for the “unique placement, coordination, and arrangement” of the artwork on the jacket. This does appear to be mimicked in the LEGO version.
Two additional points make matters even more unclear:
- The license arrangement between Queer Eye and LEGO has yet to be examined in detail.
- Concannon registered his copyright for the jacket design in November 2021, and LEGO began marketing and then selling the set in September/October of 2021.
Precedent: A Direction for the Outcome
While Concannon v. LEGO contains many twists and turns, some precedent does exist for this case. In Varsity v. Star Athletica, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that designs on cheerleading uniforms were copyrightable. This may lean in Concannon’s favor: Perhaps the artwork can legitimately be separated from the jacket.
If the case does progress, Concannon can only hope to recover damages from what LEGO gained through infringement. He simply got his registration in the door too late to fortify any other claim.