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Shane Hansen wins IP battle over copied campervan artwork, now hopes to inspire other artists

When artist Shane Hansen was told his artwork had been copied and used on the side of a campervan, he decided he wasn’t going to let it slide. And after a year-long battle, he’s finally succeeded in getting Escape Rentals to apologise and settle out of court. Here’s the advice he has for other artists who are having IP trouble following that experience.

Shane Hansen is a Tutukaka-based creative of Māori descent. As an artist, a graphic, furniture and fashion designer, he has done work for the likes of Air New Zealand, BMW, Te Wananga o Aotearoa and the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

His design style is recognisable for its bold colours, modern Māori motifs and cultural and native references.

But his work hasn’t always got proper credit when credit’s due. In January last year, a friend of Hansen’s was traveling in the South Island and notified him that he’d seen an Escape Rentals campervan with his artwork on it.

When Hansen went on the website, he discovered in a gallery that there was not one, but several rental vans bearing his designs. The artwork was credited to him, but no permission had been sought for them to be used on the sides of these vehicles.

“I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got a lot of companies that licence my artwork legitimately and pay a royalty, I can’t let an established company do that without my knowledge and approval,’” Hansen says.

“I talked to an IP lawyer and they said, ‘Let's draft a letter and send it to them.’ With my artwork, people know it and the signature style of it, but they don’t know what I look like – it was almost like they were using me [or my public image] to endorse their brand.

One of the copied artworks

“As far as the Māori perspective goes, it wasn’t mana enhancing – they’d taken my artwork – what connects me to this world and who I am – and misrepresented that, so I wanted them to be public in their apology and saying it won’t happen again. That’s what’s taken a year –trying to do that.”

But Escape Rentals wasn’t prepared to back down, so a year-long dispute ensued between Hansen and the company’s lawyers.

A court date was scheduled for July, but the two parties since reached an agreement outside of court, with Escape Rentals providing compensation, as well as agreeing to post an apology on its website and Facebook page for two weeks.

Hansen calls the experience “highly stressful and expensive” but says he’s glad he stuck to his guns and got a good outcome, as it will deter other companies from thinking that using artwork without the creator’s permission is acceptable.

“I know that it’s happened to a lot of other artists and I think there’s that thing with our profession, certain people don’t have respect for it. They see it as a hobby, but for me, this is a legitimate job and this is how I feed my whanau, so you’ve acted inappropriately.”

General manager of Escape Rentals Brendon Pope told the Northern Advocate the company regretted its actions.

"We didn't mean to cause Shane Hansen any distress or disrespect, and we're certainly sorry if we have. This is why we've apologised. We've reached a settlement but more importantly we've learned a valuable lesson. We've made some changes to our approach to artwork, now everything we're doing is wholly original and I think that's a good thing.”

Hansen says he hopes the dispute is an example to other companies of what not do when wanting to feature artwork.

“Just make a phone call and say: ‘We’re thinking of using your artwork, are you okay with that?’ To not even be given a choice is not the way to go,” he says.  

As for other creatives who feel like their IP might have been infringed on, Hansen’s advice to them is to find a way to stand up for their rights with whatever means they have.

“The thing for me is the arts is self-perpetuating in some respects. If people don’t stand up for themselves and say you’ve done the wrong thing, then it keeps perpetuating and getting taken advantage of. The more people buy into the same ‘It’s only a hobby, can’t make a living, it’s hard’ idea, the more that becomes part of the vernacular and everyone thinks like that, even the artists themselves.”

But on the bright side, Hansen reckons the arts and design scene in Aotearoa is really well supported at present.

“There are so many people out there in the public that are willing to get behind something, so if anyone feels like they’re in that position where they’ve had their IP hinged on, they’re going to be able to find support. Be proud of what you do and keep pushing forward.”

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