BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Local apparel maker Headhunter Sport is in hot water following accusations that it ripped off original artwork from international designers.

On Friday, the startup made a public apology on its Instagram page to Hong Kong-based designer Marc Allante. The copied artwork was used on Headhunter’s line of rugby shirts but has since been removed from its online store.

“I took it in good faith that our designers were producing original work and that was a mistake on my part,” said Yusuf Flynn, the company’s CEO.

“To explain, the unfortunate event happened due to a couple of things. Firstly, using a design intern (as a lot of startups do), and most importantly a lack of checking the work on our part before approval to go on the website.”

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The company’s apology received considerable backlash on Instagram. Some individuals, claiming to be former Headhunter employees, commented on the post saying they were instructed by management to take designs directly from Google image search.

When asked to respond to the allegations, Headhunter Sport declined to comment further when contacted by The Scoop on Monday.

Allante said he was alerted to the theft by a friend in the rugby community in Singapore, who asked whether he had licensed the use of his artwork on Headhunter’s jerseys. 

“It is one of my most popular artworks which went viral a few years ago. And while I sell it on prints and posters, it has not been licensed for apparel,” he said in an email interview.

Allante posted his grievances to Instagram on Thursday, sparking a social media firestorm. It has since been uncovered that Headhunter also took designs from other artists such as Justin Maller, Kerby Rosanes and Hope Little

Headhunter Sport is the official apparel partner for the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) and has also secured the rights to manufacture Marvel clothing — considered a big coup for a startup from Brunei.

As of press time, the SRU had not responded to The Scoop’s request for comment.

Allante asked for a public apology from Headhunter and for a donation of any proceeds to be made to WildAid.

The artist added that he will not be taking legal action, as long as the sportswear company honours the promise to donate to the charity.

“It has happened quite a lot on a smaller scale with disreputable Etsy or e-commerce sites using the artwork on phone covers or other easily reproduced products,” he explained, adding that this was the first time a relatively high-profile company infringed his copyright.

It is something that artists, designers and people in the creative industry have to deal with on a constant basis. I am just lucky I have enough of a following where these copyright issues can be flagged and brought to light… However, the issue involved a number of international artists and I do not know how they will respond or act moving forward. I was disappointed that interns were mentioned at all in the apology as a company should be taking responsibility for these kind of corporate governance issues. I cannot comment as to how this happened or who said what, but only focus on the end result which is the copyright infringement issue. 

Allante said he hoped the incident would create better awareness on the intellectual property rights of artists, designers and creatives.

Darussalam Enterprise (DARe), Brunei’s statutory body for SMEs, said it is currently investigating the issue, as Headhunter Sport was a startup nurtured through its business development programmes.  

“We would like to take this opportunity to state that we do not condone infringements of intellectual property, and firmly hold the respect of intellectual property as an integral part of business ethics and operations,” the body said in a statement on Monday.

DARe added that it is engaging with Headhunter to “fully understand the situation”.

“Moving forward, DARe will continue to enhance its programmes by further reinforcing business ethics, corporate governance, intellectual property rights, and human resource management.”