French designer accuses Disney of stealing his artwork

Hachim Bahous' compilation series released by Sony Music in 2015 (left) alongside character posters for Disney's new Star Wars movie Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Bahous’ poster series released by Sony Music in 2015 (right) alongside character posters for Disney’s new Star Wars movie Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Artist Hachim Bahous designed a number of CD covers for a music legacy compilation series released by Sony Music in 2015. But now, according to writer and marketing expert Cass McGee, the French designer has claimed that Disney Studios has stolen his creations for its character posters for its latest Star Wars series movie Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is set to debut in theatres Friday, May 25. She added that posting his covers alongside the new character posters for Solo on Facebook, the resemblance is quite striking – from similar fonts even down to the use of colours. She continues:

“Imagine waking up one morning to discover that your artwork was being used to promote one of the most famous movie franchises in entertainment history! It happened to a French graphic designer, and he’s not happy about it. In fact, he’s accusing Disney of plagiarism for using a design in its posters for the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story installment of the Star Wars saga. ‘I’m flattered that the quality of my work is recognized, but it’s still pure and simple forgery,’ Bahous posted on Facebook. He was referring to four posters Disney released to promote Solo: A Star Wars Story. The designs (right) featured art inserted into letters. While that style of graphic design is nothing new, and Bahous is not claiming to have invented it, the particular way Disney did it looks exactly like the way Bahous designed a series of French CD covers in 2015 – right down to the colours and image style. Even the typography is similar!

Disney says it’s investigating. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney said it’s looking into the allegations about the posters, which are credited to BLT Communications, a design studio in Hollywood. ‘The posters were created by an outside vendor, and it’s something we’re currently looking into,’ a Disney Spokesperson said. Bahous’ artwork was commissioned by Sony France, so it’s likely they’d have to get involved in any future legal action, if necessary. BLT Communications has not commented on the matter to date.

Steve Heller.
Steve Heller.

Does he have a case? Graphic design historian Steve Heller thinks so. The American-born art director, journalist, critic, author and editor, specializes in topics related to graphic design. He points to the colour palette, character treatment, fonts and background as similar enough to make a case for being a copy, but he added that such infringement is inevitable. ‘If something is good, it’ll be knocked off,” he told Quartz. “Look at I Love NY. Look at Coke and Pepsi. Look at the rip-offs around the world for Starbucks.’ While proving such infringement in court can be difficult and quite expensive, trying these cases in the court of public opinion has had more and more success, thanks to the massive audiences on social media. Plus, quite often public shaming is more effective at getting results from companies than the fear of having to pay for a hefty legal settlement. That said, designers should not be afraid to assert their rights. While stealing may be inevitable, having to pay a steep price for it should be as well.”

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.