Nusret Gökçe, better known as “Salt Bae”, (the “Defendant”) is the Turkish chef and restaurateur who rose to fame in 2017 through a series of viral Internet videos and memes showing his technique to prepare and season meat.
On April 12, William Logan Hicks (the “Plaintiff”), an artist based in Brooklyn, New York, best known for his photorealistic stenciled paintings and murals, filed suit in the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York against the Defendant and its related entities (the “Defendants”) for copyright infringement. In the Complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that after being commissioned, alongside another artist, to create several original murals depicting “Salt Bae” is his “salt-sprinkling pose” in late 2017, the Defendants decided “that rather than continue to lawfully contract and compensate [the Plaintiff] for additional use of his copyrighted images, they would instead willfully engage in a massive, global infringement scheme in complete disregard for [the Plaintiff’s] rights under the law”. The Plaintiff holds copyright registration VAu001293548 in the Pattern. Joseph Iurato (non-party) obtained copyright registration VA0002244316 in the Stencil and, thereafter, assigned all rights in the Stencil to the Plaintiff pursuant to a copyright assignment agreement. Accordingly, the Plaintiff is the owner of the copyrights in both Original Works. An image of the Original Works included in the Complaint is below:
The Defendants requested that the Plaintiff and Mr. Iurato combine the Original Works to create the final artwork for the Defendants’ Miami steakhouse (“Miami Artwork”). In November 2018 and February 2019, respectively, the Defendants’ commissioned the Plaintiff and Mr. Iurato to create additional artwork derived from the Original Works to be displayed in other restaurants. By early 2020, the Plaintiff claimed to have discovered the Defendants’ were “engaging in widespread, unauthorized distribution and use of the Original Works in, among other places, Nusr-et steakhouses and Saltbae Burger restaurants in New York, Dubai, and Istanbul. Among other uses, Defendants have been prominently using the Original Works in their window displays and digital signs, menus, wipes, and takeout bags.” An image of the Miami Artwork, similar to the other commissioned work, included in the Complaint is below:
The Plaintiff seeks actual damages, all of Defendants’ disgorged worldwide profits “attributable to Defendants’ willful copyright infringement“, statutory damages under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), as well as attorney’s fees and costs under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 505, $25,000 per violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b), ordering the impounding of all existing copies of the Infringing Materials, Infringing Artworks and Infringing Products under 17 U.S.C. § 1203, and awarding costs and attorney’s fees under 17 U.S.C. § 1203, no less than five million dollars ($5,000,000) in connection with the foregoing claimed damages as a result of Defendants’ “willful unlawful conduct”, an injunction that permanently restrains and enjoins Defendants from copying, reproducing, distributing, adapting, and/or publicly displaying the Infringing Materials, Infringing Artworks, Infringing Products, or any unlawful copy of the Original Works, interest, including prejudgment interest, on the foregoing sums, and any such other and further legal and equitable relief as the Court may deem just and proper.