'Salt Bae' faces $5 million copyright suit over using artwork without permission

Brooklyn artist Logan Hicks alleges the social media star used his work across the world

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 23: Salt Bae attends the screening of "The Traitor" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Laurent KOFFEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
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Nusret Gokce, the famed Turkish butcher, chef and restaurateur who goes by the nickname Salt Bae, is facing a $5 million copyright infringement lawsuit from a US artist who alleges the social media star has used his artwork across the world without permission.

Brooklyn artist Logan Hicks says he and fellow artist Joseph Iurato were hired by Gokce, who is behind Nusr-Et steakhouse in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to create a mural of him "in his signature salt-sprinkling pose", according to a Manhattan federal lawsuit, as reported by the New York Post.

While the first work appeared in his Miami steakhouse, other commissioned stencils have since been seen in the chef's Dubai, Doha, Istanbul and New York outposts, say the court papers.

'Unauthorised distribution'

Early in 2020, Hicks found out Gokce and his companies had used the same image of that first work without permission internationally, in window displays, on menus and even on takeout bags, according to the suit.

The images are also said to have appeared on wet wipe packaging, digital signs and the label for Salt Bae's line of seasoning.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 23 FEBRUARY 2021. Gulffood Exhibition at the Dubai World Trade Center. Salt Bae product. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Janice Rodriquez. Section: National.
Salt Bae has a brand of flavoured salts. Antonie Robertson/The National

“Defendants were engaging in widespread, unauthorised distribution and use of the original works,” claims the suit. “Defendants also unilaterally decided that they would instead unlawfully adapt, create and distribute unauthorised derivative versions of the original works … to display in Nusr-Et steakhouse locations in at least Abu Dhabi, Ankara, Etiler, Mykonos and Bodrum Yalikavak Marina."

Hicks reportedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to Gocke in April 2020, demanding they stop using the original work, but, according to the suit, he and his companies "doubled down on their already widespread infringement, expanding their wilful use of the Infringing Materials to locations in Doha, D Maris Bay (Turkey), Boston, Dallas and several additional locations in Istanbul".

Hicks also shared the story on Instagram, saying that he and Iurato agreed to the original commission as they "appreciate a good joke".

"The first commission turned into a second commission for the Miami location. Then later another for Doha," he wrote. "Each commission came with a signed contract, dictating the terms of the usage, where it would be located. What it could be used for. Who retained the copyright (it's us!)."

All of the other usages, from the wipes to the labels, were not permitted in the contract, he added.

Who is Logan Hicks?

An American contemporary artist born in 1971, Hicks graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He's known for his stencil art and is a graduate from the graffiti street scene of the 1980s, and friends with the likes of Shepard Fairey.

At The Cans Festival in 2008 in London, he was one of two artists personally selected by Banksy to represent the US, according to Interview magazine.

In 2017, he worked on the Dubai Walls street art project and photographed urban cityscapes ahead of creating a giant mural. He was in the city in 2016 taking thousands of photographs both during day and night to capture the essence of the growing metropolis.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 5:  Logan Hicks, a New York city street artist in Dubai, UAE, on October 5, 2016. The artist is in town taking hundreds of photos ahead of designing a mural using hand-sprayed stencils that will be featured in City Walk, Dubai, early next year.  (Randi Sokoloff for The National)  *** Local Caption ***  RS-032-051016-LOGAN.jpg
New York city street artist Logan Hicks. Randi Sokoloff for The National

"Street art has become the rock 'n' roll for the social media age," Hicks told The National at the time. "The majority of my work deals with city environments and how people operate within those areas. I look at the architecture and how people move around those environments.

“You couldn’t find a more perfect city environment to show than that of Dubai, in terms of how things are spread out. Cities are organic and the roads replicate the arteries of a living, breathing thing that is growing all the time."

Salt Bae from 2017 until now

Gokce first rose to fame in 2017 when he posted a video of himself carving a steak and then sprinkling salt down his forearm on to the meat. Within 48 hours, the video had more than 2.4 million views – and "Salt Bae" was born.

In the UAE, he runs Nusr-Et steakhouses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as an outpost of his Salt Bae Burger in DIFC.

Any celebrity worth their salt has dined at the star's Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach restaurant while in the emirate, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Rio Ferdinand and even Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

In November, Gokce honoured Diego Maradona by permanently reserving the football legend's favourite table at his Dubai restaurant.

This is not the first legal issue Gokce has come up against in the past year. Within a week of opening the first Nusr-Et restaurant in Boston, it was ordered to close by the city's licensing board after being hit with a number of health and fire breach notices.

In January 2020, too, police were called to a Florida branch of the restaurant chain as a man refused to pay for his 24-karat gold steak after he was shocked by the $3,000 bill at the end of the evening.