Lego started releasing branded sets decades ago, finding an enormous level of success with its Star Wars series, but in recent years it started branching out into branded sets that are explicitly aimed at adult collectors—like multiple Friends sets and the Seinfeld apartment. That presumably requires a more complex licensing deal than Disney/Lucasfilm asking for another plastic X-Wing, which has now led to a weird issue with a Lego set based on the loft from Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot.
As reported by The Fashion Law, an artist named James Concannon has filed a lawsuit against Lego over its plastic recreation of a custom leather jacket that he made for Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski, accusing the toy company of ripping off his design without permission. The Lego loft includes a handful of different outfits for each Queer Eye personality that are based on the clothes they wear in the show, and Concannon believes that Lego Antoni’s jacket is simply too similar to the real one for him to not be getting credit.
You can see Porowki wearing the jacket in the image above, and you can see the Lego version at the Lego website. The Lego one certainly seems like an attempt to recreate that specific jacket, but it’s worth noting that the Lego one does have different text on the back and replaced a skull on the real one with a little Lego minifigure skull (weird to imagine that Lego people have tiny little skulls).
There is a somewhat odd wrinkle to all of this involving the fact that Netflix made a point to get Concannon’s permission to use other custom clothes he made on the show, but for whatever reason, it did not ask for his permission to ever use the jacket. Concannon says he didn’t mid at the time, because Netflix had been so diligent in the past, but seeing the jacket recreated in the Lego set without his permission was a problem.
Specifically, he says Lego copied “the unique placement, coordination, and arrangement of the individual artistic elements” of the original jacket, which he has a copyright on, and that the toy company has rejected his attempt to send a cease-and-desist on the grounds that giving the jacket to Porowski for Queer Eye gave Netflix an “implied license” to do whatever it wanted with it.
The Fashion Law story points to a Twitter thread from self-described “international copyright geek” Mike Dunford about this case, in which he explains that the actual thing protected by copyright in this case is the art on the jacket, not the jacket itself, so it seems like it’s kind of irrelevant that Lego made a jacket at all. The issue is then whether or not the images on the jacket and their specific placement infringes on the copyright (though Dunford also points out that some elements, like the peace sign on the lapel, wouldn’t be protected).
Also, Dunford notes that the Lego jacket wouldn’t qualify as a parody of the original jacket, because while it references the real one “to humorous effect,” it isn’t commenting on the original in any way. It’s all surprisingly weird and complicated, especially for a lawsuit revolving around one little piece that is only available in one $100 Lego set.