Art is our stuff. We can buy it, we can sell it, we can keep it locked away in the claustrum of our hearts and homes – and we can also lose it. It is as touchable, tearable, and tangible as the living room television, especially to those who created it. And when you find your act of creation where it doesn’t belong, it can feel as if someone has broken into your living room and carried that television out the door.
So Jair Hernandez must have felt when his business partner forwarded a screen capture of his work floating around another designer’s page. The work, which is patterned after celebrated Spurs fan Felipe Aldaco, had only been in existence for less than twenty-four hours. The phrase, “nombre [no, hombre] shut up, go Spurs go!” was uttered by Aldaco decades ago as a pesky reporter and cameraman interrupted his good time. The catchy one-liner in combination with Aldaco’s typefied, westside enunciation, now all-but-forgotten, became an instant hit with the city.
The Great Nombre Heist Uncovered
“I put it on Instagram right after the Spurs game which was Tuesday night and last night I saw it had been stolen,” Hernandez tells CO LAB Magazine. Standing accused is Ahedo Designs, whose online presence is maintained through Facebook and Instagram accounts.
“It was upsetting, not cool at all be honest. Every artist/creative person is out here working hard and to see your stuff just stolen really sucks.”
Theft of artistic property is a particularly sore subject for the local community. It happens more often than it should here (which, technically, should be not at all), and too many artists have stories of misappropriation to tell, this writer included, who can recall ten years past witnessing a friend selling a one-of-a-kind piece at one First Friday, and on the very next First Friday, the very same customer selling the very same piece and twenty others like it.
Local artist Regina Morales, self-styled as ‘Hello Reg,’ has a few stories herself.
“I hate when people steal artwork and try to take credit,” says Morales. She expressed her recent frustrations with a clothing company that sees fit to credit the models in their Instagram posts but not the artist whose designs it uses.
“I hand drew that design,” she explained, referencing an image of printed shorts that mix provocative hems with gym-class nostalgia. In the end, her boss paid her out of pocket in place of the client, but she still feels the incident was ‘swept under the rug.’ Undoubtedly, those buried bitterroots touched air when she caught wind of Jair’s work masqueraded as another’s. “So that’s when I put them on blast.”
When the dinner bell rung, the wolves came hungry. In a city where lingering memories of exploitation and injustice permeate the communal psyche, the self-defensive instinct has been honed into pre-emptive aggression, and the local internet’s response was swift and merciless. At the time of writing, Ahedo Design’s social media accounts have abruptly closed, its online footprint vanished near-entirely.
Two Sides to a Story
This morning, on the other side of the country, Benita Ahedo awoke to children that needed breakfast, a new home full of unpacked moving boxes, and an Huns at the gates to her inbox. Ahedo, in her mid-twenties, was born in San Antonio and went to Lanier High School; now she is a stay-at-home mother and a military wife, currently moving according to her husband’s naval deployment, and embroiders in her spare time.
Benita is Ahedo Designs.
It’s not so much a business or a merchandiser as it is a face to what she describes as a ‘hobby.’ She came up with the idea six years ago as a way to brand herself and sell pieces of her work to make a little extra income for the family while her husband is away on active duty.
“Because that’s all that came to mind; I thought, oh, I’m good at sewing.”
Over the phone, Ahedo sounded defeated and clearly overwhelmed by what was happening to her.
“I wasn’t trying to steal anything,” she said tearfully, “I never intended to sell anything. All I do is sewing.”
Ahedo Design’s actual work featured below.
All of this trouble started because she wanted to make her husband a shirt. And her husband, of course, being a San Antonio native as well, is a Spurs fan. She had asked him over the phone if he had seen a certain picture, Jair’s ‘Nombre Shut Up!,’ and he liked it so much that she immediately began work on transforming the image onto a shirt for him to wear. Though she expressed passionately and severally that it was meant to be a private, one-time use of the image, her misstep was to publicly document the process on Instagram, which was magnified when her husband made a similar post that read as if the design was hers.
Now the Ahedo finds herself in the cross hairs of an entire art scene.
The Legal Analysis
To be fair, neither Instagram post mentions private use and both are easily interpreted as advertising a product for production. More unfortunately for Ahedo, her personal branding has every hallmark of an actual design company.
The underlying issue to all this misappropriation and misunderstanding is a hazy understanding of intellectual property rights by the public majority, as evidenced in the colorful plethora of Facebook comments surrounding the issue.
San Antonio lawyer Tamir Morsi, a specialist in entertainment law, weighed in on the issue for CO LAB Magazine.
“Regarding the making of the shirt, she does have the right to reproduce and use as many copies of the image for her private use, as long as it’s for private use only.” Another criteria, he says, is that the reproduction cannot violate the artist’s moral rights, meaning it cannot be attached to any medium or idea that would slander the original artist (such as being printed over an image of a dead baby). “The issue does get into danger when the image is being promoted through Instagram, depending whether the account is for business or private use.”
This protection of private use from copyright infringement applies to Ahedo’s intention just as much as it applies to anyone who copies an image from Google search into a Facebook post – ideologically, they are one and the same action. A copyrighted image that can be permanently affixed to a shirt is just as permanently affixed to your Facebook wall, so those casting the first stone, beware. What matters is the purpose in which it is used – to sell or to display.
For now, Ahedo seems to have learned a valuable lesson. “I should have done more research,” she admits, and apologized for any misunderstanding. Ahedo hopes to be able to continue doing what she loves, and one day grow her hobby into a business with a website. Her big dream: to own a boutique that sells dresses, tutus, and birthday shirts for toddlers.