Thailand - US Brand Supreme's Dispute Over Thai Monk's Photo.
Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - Thailand - Dispute Resolution - Intellectual Property
23 February 2021
Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism will challenge an American fashion company Supreme New York, over the use of an image of a Thai monk on a new shirt. This is not any image, but of an iconic late monk Luang Phor Koon who passed away in 2015 and is revered in Thailand.
He was based at Wat Ban Rai, the famous elephant temple in the centre of Thailand. Wat Ban Rai’s management and his family say they were not asked for permission either. The anecdote is, mystical powers are said to imbue amulets he blessed when alive - even today.
The press reports that the image of Luang Phor Koon was taken in the early 2000s and was sold on cloths to raise funds for the temple in Nakhon Ratchasima province. The image is probably protected by copyright, but subsistence and ownership may still need to be proven. The Thai DIP issued a press release clarifying that the image of Luang Phor Koon is a creative work protected by copyright and if it is proved that the Ban Rai temple produced it, then they have exclusive rights.
Eagle eyed observers have noted that the image might be taken before the 2000s as it seems identical with a yant distributed in 1993 (the original talisman/ yantra cloth distributed 1993 to raise funds for the Temple). In addition, some argue that the yant itself is considered a work of applied art, and in Thailand copyright in such works last 25 years after the work was created/published. So, it is not clear if the copyright has expired.
The Thai government has said it will issue a complaint to the New York skateboard and hip hop brand founded in 1994. The company sells mainly in US, EU, China and Japan and is in the process of being acquired by VF. Although this is likely a copyright claim, the commercial use of religious iconography has always been a sensitive issue. The image appears on the ‘Blessings Ripstop Shirt’ in Supreme’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection. The image also features what is call yant, a sacred form of tattoo used by Buddhist monks or Brahmin holy men.
Social media is buzzing over the issue in Thailand and more widely in Southeast Asia.