Famed chef Nusr-et Gökçe — better known as “Salt Bae” — has been hit with a $5 million copyright infringement lawsuit by a Brooklyn artist, who alleges the social media star used his artwork all over the world without permission.
William Hicks says he and fellow artist Josphe Iurato were hired by Gökçe in September 2017 to make a mural of Turkish restaurateur “in his signature salt-sprinkling pose,” according to a Manhattan Federal lawsuit from Monday.
The first work was displayed in Gökçe’s Miami steakhouse and subsequent commissioned stencil murals also went up at his restaurants in Doha, Dubai and New York, the court papers say.
Only Hicks then found out in early 2020 that Gökçe and his companies were using the same image around the world in window displays, digital signs, menus, wipes, takeout bags and on the label for his line of seasonings — all without the artist’s permission, the court documents allege.
“Defendants were engaging in widespread, unauthorized distribution and use of the original works in, among other places, Nusr-et’s steakhouses and Saltbae Burger restaurants in New York, Dubai and Istanbul,” the suit charges.
“Defendants also unilaterally decided that they would instead unlawfully adapt, create, and distribute unauthorized 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,” the court documents claim.
Hicks allegedly sent a cease and desist letter demanding that they stop using the original artworks in April 2020. But, Gökçe and the companies, “doubled down on their already widespread infringement, expanding their willful use of the Infringing Materials to locations in Doha, D Maris Bay (Turkey), Boston, Dallas and several additional locations in Istanbul,” the suit claims.
Gökçe first rose to global fame in 2017 when images of him flamboyantly sprinkling salt on a steak went viral on Instagram. He opened the New York Nusr-et outpost in early 2018.
Gökçe could not immediately be reached for comment.