Self-proclaimed Polynesian pop culture artist Brad "Tiki Shark" Parker said after years of toiling with his craft, he finally got his big break in May, when the Dubai affiliate of Body Glove ordered 25,000 towels with the image of one his most famous paintings, "Forbidden Island."
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"Finally, I got to a place where a large retail place thought I was important enough and unique enough to order an exclusive image," Parker told KITV4 from his home in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. "The deal was happening and I was so excited and then it fell through."
Tiki Style Me, the Dubai-based company, cancelled its $257,000 contract with Parker because "Forbidden Island" was already being widely distributed by CafePress.com, an offshoot of the company CafePress Inc. based in San Mateo, Calif.
"It was devastating," said Parker. "I felt like someone came into my studio and grabbed a painting and ran out and stole it."
As Parker began researching the use of "Forbidden Island", he found countless products being sold by CafePress.com on the internet, from slippers to tote bags. The only difference, his signature had been removed.
"I know there were over 200 items," said Parker. "At first I was just like numb with shock. I just couldn't believe it."
However, Parker was determined not to give up on his artwork without a fight. In October, he filed suit in Honolulu U.S. District Court alleging copyright infringement. One of Parker's attorneys, David Smith, is brimming with confidence as the case heads into litigation.
"I believe Brad 'Tiki Shark' Parker's copyright was infringed upon, and we believe that he had a valid claim for copyright infringement," said Smith.
Parker's lawsuit seeks actual and statutory damages from CafePress.com, as well as a permanent injunction against any further copyright infringements.
"Essentially, he's seeking compensation for the lost contract that he had and for the copyright infringement," said Smith. "The exact amount of that is to be determined."
KITV4 placed a phone call and sent emails to CafePress.com Wednesday seeking comment about Parker's lawsuit. The company has yet to respond to the request.
Meanwhile, Parker says even his eclectic creativity has been jolted because of his unsettling experience.
"Now, when I sit down to try to work I think, 'What am I painting for, it's just all going to be stolen,'" said Parker. "I mean it's devastating. It's damaging my career; it's damaging my ability to paint."
Parker's work is found exclusively at the Wyland Kona Oceanfront Gallery. He said it took years for so-called lowbrow art, or pop surrealism, to be widely accepted.
"It's surrealistic art that references pop culture, and I'm actually a subcategory of that, I'm actually Polynesian pop culture," explained Parker. "I want the Big Island to have that special, unique local art scene, and that's kind of what I wanted to create here."