J Balvin has never shied away from showcasing his love for the work of the artist Brian Donnelly, a.k.a KAWS, having adorned himself in KAWS-designed jewelry, clothes and shoes—not to mention purchasing actual works of art. At last night’s Grammy Awards, the reggaeton superstar found another canvas for the pop artist’s work: his dome. On the red carpet and on stage, J Balvin rocked a blue buzz cut with an unmistakable pair of KAWS’s signature “X” eyes dyed onto the back of his head.
Except, while J Balvin and his stylist credited Givenchy for his custom suit on their Instagram stories, the musician didn’t appear to officially credit KAWS for his hair. (Neither KAWS nor J Balvin responded to requests for comment.)
Which raises the question: is the dye job a legally-actionable knock-off, a Canal Street KAWS? The “X” eyes are certainly a valuable piece of intellectual property for the artist, considering they appear on everything from Dior collaborations to large-scale installations. And KAWS has shown himself to be protective of his work in the past. In a somewhat ironic move, given his liberal use of existing intellectual property, the artist filed a $10 million lawsuit against a number of parties for copyright and trademark infringement last November. So, might J Balvin run the risk of a lawsuit for wearing what sure looks like KAWS’s work on the back of his head?
In short, no, according to Judith Wallace, co-chair of art law practice at Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP.
“The question the court would ask is, how does this affect the market for KAWS’s work?” Wallace said. Even if J Balvin’s hair is appropriating KAWS’s style, a dye job is by nature an ephemeral work. “There’s no product that’s for sale,” she said. “I’ve never heard of anyone being sued over a hairstyle.”
“I think it’s good that artists have become more protective of having their creative product basically stolen, or adapted in a way that’s inconsistent with their integrity,” she said. “Maybe they don’t want to have their art on Louis Vuitton sunglasses, for example.”
Of course, nowadays many artists do in fact want their work on some Louis Vuitton. If they’re lucky, it might even show up on a red carpet.