The Suits Strike Again: The L.I.S.A Project vs. Wat-Aah

By - Monday, May 11th, 2015

Street art and graffiti have been and will continue to be hot buttons when it comes to advertising and media. We see examples of commercial street art constantly, be it within television shows, large-scale ads or car commercials, street art is an easy trend to tap into. As far as media execs are concerned, it’s a win-win when an artist is paid to provide original work, as the results are often appealing to a massive market of young, artistic people. The trouble is that all too often, we run into the same scenario: original work is too expensive, so major corporations remix or rework original artwork without permission (see: Vandalog on Hyundai), steal small entrepreneurial companies designs or artwork (see: No Fun Press x NYLON, Urban Outfitters), or in a more recent case, artists are convinced that they will be helping a charity, which ultimately turns out not to be the case. 

The L.I.S.A Project (Little Italy Street Art Project NYC) has been around since 2012, providing Manhattan with a mural district. The small organization brings together street artists to beautify and engage Mulberry St. Their social media and online presence is refreshingly honest and human, maintaining the relationship between artist and audience moreso than larger-scale productions commonly do. The L.I.S.A Project has been using the hashtag #takingbackthestreets since their conception, which perfectly suits their efforts. However, more recently, bottled-water company Wat-Aah has claimed this same tag line. In fact, they even sent a letter, claiming that the hashtag was copyrighted and demanding that The L.I.S.A Project stop using it immediately. Wat-Aah is a presidentially and pop-star endorsed bottled water for kids, featuring several different types of water, some with added electrolytes or magnesium, etc. Their basic idea was to create exciting water for kids, because mass-producing millions of plastic bottles will also get kids to go outside! Now I’m not a political writer in this sense, but I’ll just let you make the connection between this and Obama’s stance on the environmental crisis.

It’s hard to separate personal opinions from legal ones in these cases, and frankly it’s too new of a topic, legally speaking, to really have any hard evidence in favor of or against the use of a hashtag according to this article on Art Net news. Here is a heartbreaking request from The L.I.S.A Project Instagram,

“Hello friends of L.I.S.A. Project NYC we need your help. You may remember when @wataah @wataahstreets and @rosecameronceo drained the accounts of the charity because we used the hashtag #takingbackthestreets by threatening us with a lawsuit. They also threatened @thedrif with a lawsuit, and supposedly they support street artists, they don’t, they use street art to sell their product. Taking Back The Streets has been used by street and graffiti artists, along with protesters for a number of years to share art and information. Also, Wataah lied and said they had the trademark, THEY DID NOT, they applied for a trademark. So now is the time to work together to oppose their request. Unfortunately, we are still struggling to catch up from the financial hit this “designer bottle water being marketed to children” caused. Shame on Rose and Wataah, because they could have reached out to us, but instead they chose to be bullies and intimidate. So we are seeking guidance and support to oppose this trademark and keep it in the public domain. If you can help, let’s us know… Thank you for your support! And please repost this! #wataah#wataahstreets#rosecameronceo

The root of this issue goes far deeper than the use of a hashtag; Wat-Aah sweetened the proverbial deal (don’t worry, there’s no added sugar in their water, though) with the street artists they worked with to create their advertisements by assuring them that profits would go towards a charity. Proof of this has never been provided. We can all understand the attraction of creating work for a company like this one, we’re sure the paychecks are substantial, and the reality of things is that artists need to eat.

The line between selling out and providing financial stability for yourself and/or family is a very tricky grey zone, and it’s not one that we intend to pass judgement on. However, we have and will pass judgement on the artistic integrity and responsibility of Wat-Aah, whose employees have now not only attacked The L.I.S.A Project in all of their honest, proactive work, but have contributed to the long list of companies who failed to do the street art “thing” right.

On the positive side, street artists have made a direct hit right back at Wat-Aah, with no instruction from the LISA project.

Go L.I.S.A Go!

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