12.08.2010

Drawing the Line on Design Theft


After reading Jan's Sidetrack Cafe post yesterday on Poppytalk I had a flood of thoughts. I reminded myself to keep working and moving forward, developing ideas and keep blinders on but maintain wisdom to know there are people in the world that will steal designs and ideas. I also wanted to reach out to all the people who felt like her message was telling "newbies" to give up. That wasn't it at all, the beauty of the internet as a medium is that there is a level playing field for everyone, but you're not playing fair if you're duplicating (stealing) another person's work.


Yes, people steal. Even on etsy. There are people who buy your work and ship it off to China to have it reproduced, then sell that work wholesale to big companies (Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie/Terrain, I'm looking at you).


UO/A/T also sell a lot of artist-made items, so somewhere between buyer and seller the integrity of their wares becomes muddled. {And yes, it's a bit scary to call them out because they do support the independent crafts person.}But they also support Cody Foster {perhaps inspired by this?}, a gift ware wholesaler who does shop etsy, and does send those hand-crafted items off to China to be duplicated and resold, without the consent of the artist.


I could go through their whole catalog and attribute 75% of their goods to online crafters' wares. These images are just an example.
So what do we do? I'm going to write a letter to Anthropologie and let them know I won't be shopping with them while they support design thieves. I don't know what else to do, but this will be a good start. And maybe, just maybe, others will do the same. And someone will see Cody Foster wares at another retailer and let me know and I'll send that retailer a letter. . . and maybe something bigger will happen.

Maybe not, who knows. But as we all figure out how to maintain image rights and property within the abstract realm of technology we have to start drawing lines somewhere, right? Anyone else up for a boycott?

(Obviously this blog post is written based on my own observations and findings. I am not aware of any court findings or judgements on the subject. I am only presenting things as I see them.) 

62 comments:

Sarah said...

Thanks for this post! I had seen an off-hand tweet about C&F somewhere but didn't know what it was all about. Despicable. :(

Wolfie and the Sneak said...

despicable is a good word. they've ripped off a lot of people! my examples barely began to cover what they've done.

jan said...

Whoa! When you see the images like that it really is startling! Thanks for pointing these out Renee! Something must be done.

jan said...

And thanks for "getting and claryifying" my message! Everyone who reads my blog knows I'm an advocate for the newbie - my gosh! I was empowering the newbie, not discouraging them. It's not a negative thing here it's all about empowerment!

Jessica said...

Horrible.

Chocolate and Steel said...

wow! That is just awful. Anthropologie is one of their big accounts. We should coordinate a mass amount of people to post on Anthro's facebook wall "warning" them of this. I'm sure they don't care but for the sake of their public image they may stop doing business with them.

F L L said...

this is a really important post laid out in the clearest way possible. Thank you for taking the time to put this together, I'm about to post this everywhere.

visualinfluence said...

Good post. What happened to copyrights?

Allyson said...

thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

I will add that, UO & Anthro have been known to place orders with independent craftspeople, receive and sell their items, and then been so late with payment that the vendors have lost their studio, racked up interest fees, etc. - it can barely be called supportive!

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of Cody Foster & Co - that's pretty horrifying! Glad you posted.

cal said...

i've been boycotting UO/A/T (all the same company in case anyone doesn't know) for years, for this reason, even though i used to work for them (over 12 years ago). there used to be a great blog called "Urban Counterfeiters" that documented all the indie goods knocked off by them, but it doesn't seem to exist anymore...

E said...

Let's make a petition!

Anonymous said...

May not want to hear, but Etsy sellers do the same as well. Order a product from a small to midsize e-tailer and then quickly copy at home. It's terrible all around. Both sides.

Anonymous said...

I think a boycott is a good first step, for sure. But I also think this should be taken further--this company, Cody & Foster, has a "product designer" who is just some person like you or me...and is being a LAZY designer--instead of actually DESIGNING, they are just going out, buying samples and shipping them off to be copied by overseas factories. I think all the artists whose work is being copied for the livelihood of this despicable company should do a little research on the staff at the company (a google search or one of those paid detective web reports would prob do it) and then single out the product developer(s) who are doing this and start harassing the shit out of them! like, publically SHAME them somehow. I mean, I'm in fashion design, and everyone buys samples of other people's work for "inspiration", but you're supposed to "make it your own" and change things...but this is really egregious, outright copying!

elan said...

Kudos to you for a well presented case. I've never heard of C&F, but am gladly passing your post along so that others may be aware. I know these are not isolated infringements, and it occurs a lot in many different forms, but it is well worth noting when it does happen and appreciate you making this public. Sometimes it's difficult to differentiate between inspiration and robbery, but this certainly is not the case here!

Lindsay RC Wilson said...

I am seriously not surprised. I have been an Anthropologie lover for years (like when you HAD to shop from the catalog because there wasn't one in every backyard). I would peruse the catalog over and over wishing could afford their wares and every so often something went so deep discounted, I could.

Now that they have grown, I have seen their quality dip, but the prices keep rising (Did you know their target market is households who make $250,000, but look at the clientele?), and with the expansion, you became less and less unique, which was one reason I loved them. I wasn't wearing the same thing as every other person walking down the street.

When I came across etsy a few years ago, my loyalty shifted. Sure, some products are a little more expensive because they are not mass produced, but knowing I am supporting handmade makes me feel good. Also, I love that I find unique items again. People are always asking where I got __ or ___, to which "etsy" is my reply. With this enlightenment, I will be even more driven to buy handmade rather than the big retailers. Thanks for the insight.

Raggy Rat said...

discusting!
from some one who has been ripped off ...

Stone Art said...

man those ripoff's are painful to look at, so cheep and tacky in comparasent. Shame....

Wolfie and the Sneak said...

Thank you all for taking the time to read this. It's an opportunity to get together and make our voices heard. Please feel free to repost this and/or the images and let people know copyright still exists in the digital age.

denise said...

Thanks for the information. Truly inappropriate practices on their part.

Maybe this is partly why they have such an 'Indy' style.

Boycott? yes.

An Art Nest said...

While I haven't had my wares stolen and sent to China...I did have a UK customer purchase and then replicate my item. Now her rip-offs can be seen right next to my items on Etsy.
One good thing that came out of it was that it pushed me to move forward with my design and create a more unique item ( I did this by hand printing my fabrics ).
It still stings my heart a little when I see her stuff floating through Etsy - I can't imagine what it feels like to see your design in Anthro - how hurtful ~ Thanks for the post - Your examples were explosive...

Katie Runnels said...

Thank you for this! I have been silently struggling with this and just trying to forge ahead with new work/ideas. But folks should know!
You've inspired me to post about my own disheartening copies at anthro and midwest of cannon falls. xox
ps. i cannot get over the detail- right down to the stitched embellishment(!)that has so shamelessly been copied! grrrrr!!

Jennifer Davis Art said...

I complained on Anthropologie's Facebook page. This is sick! Thank you for posting this. -jd

Olivia said...

Wow, thanks for this eye-opening post. I wasn't aware they were doing this to this extent. Let's spread the word and lets send letters. To whom though, any thoughts? Maybe there's a head of product development?

emily said...

My Etsy item isn't very unique, although there were no Etsy sellers doing quite exactly what I did until I hit the front page. Now the search results are showing up more and more. This isn't what bothers me. What bothers me is that I've had 2 sellers directly rip off my original descriptions. I thought that was bad until I saw this! :(

It makes my blood boil...my heart goes out to the people who made the originals.

Lee Nicholson said...

Makes me physically sick to read this and then go to Cody Foster's website. YUCK. I emailed them directly to state my disgust. They have a Twitter account so maybe a Twitter campaign is in order?

Anonymous said...

I think those circus-theme creations were originally the work of HomemadeCirus: http://www.etsy.com/shop/homemadecircus.

Mine is Thine said...

Wow, all of Cody & Foster's social media online presence has suddenly pulled-up stakes, wrapped-up, and closed-up-shop! Blog and Twitter now marked as 'Private', and facebook page GONE!!

Proof and testament to the power of community; proof of the power of social connections and in getting pro-active and letting your voice be heard. Maybe that company will now be forced to design their own work!

Wolfie and the Sneak said...

they're just "private" now, keep tweeting and letting people know this is not okay! They've got lawsuits against them but are still producing plagiarized goods.

Amy Rice said...

I heard that they had a blog entry this morning that explained away their culpability. I missed it before it was made private again, anyone see it?

Miss Lo said...

it's nice to be able to "catch" someone in the act, but I have to agree - Etsy sellers are more than guilty of doing this too.

I am passing this article on to the promoters of the NYIGF, where they are showing in the Handmade section. I will be in the handmade section as well - come join me. My stuff is handmade. By ME

Miss Lo said...

A correction to my previous post: this person/company is exhibiting in the NYIGF as a rep, not as an artist.

I'm going to leave it alone. The downside to all this is that artists who are legitimately being repped by this company will be hurt.

foxpots said...

Having someone else copy your work is annoying. It bothers me most when another artist admires my work at an art fair, then shows up at the next one with a copy of my piece. Since my work is functional, it cannot be copyrighted. That doesn't seem right to me, but it is the law in the US.

Fiona Cartolina said...

Thank you for preparing this post.
We wholesale our greeting cards around the world. We got our start by a mention on Poppytalk 4 years ago(though Jan refuses to admit her influence :-)

It's very important for a designer to stay vigilant about their designs. One must stay on top of things at all times. If your designs are too easy to copy it will cause you no end of grief. Stay unique, copyright everything, and try to produce a product that is not easy to copy.

Thanks for this post - just wanted to show our support.
Fiona - Cartolina Cards

Anonymous said...

While this is certainly annoying, what difference does it make? - if it's not this company, it's another etsy seller... and there's nothing you can do about it.

Margie Oomen said...

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SzGftF1iacw/TOCIdRJvCWI/AAAAAAAAE34/89ZST_skT7k/s1600/anthrosoaps.jpg
there is another anthro sponsored rip off of my crochet covered stones for your list!!
I am thinking official boy cot of the anthro empire.

Sister said...

I spent many years before the advent of the internets making and selling one of a kind art clothing. Sad to say this has been going on for many, many years. Just ask any older craftsperson who did ACC fairs back in the '70s & '80s. And in the '90s Target was an especially heinous culprit. In addition to alerting each other, educate your customer as well as any retailers who carry your work. You do have one advantage, because you are small, you can be flexible and put new designs into production months and seasons before the ripoff folks.
Cate Fitt

Anonymous said...

Dear wolfie and the sneak- thank you for this post- as I was relaying the poppytalk post to my mother, I used the example of the pinecones by SCB. Buying authentic is magical as it adds to the experience. It also is expensive, as it should be. As a consumer, not a producer, I love to know the backstory of the items entering my life. Thank you for this post, Julie

Dawn said...

I posted about this on my blog and Facebook. I hope it helps, even if it is just a little bit. I know we will have a hard time getting both corporations and individuals to stop copying and stealing, but as long as consumers are aware of the issue they can make better decisions when purchasing a product. At least that is what I like to believe.

I was a HUGE fan of Anthropologie, but I had no idea they were doing this, so I thank you for bringing it to my attention. I'm saddened and extremely disappointed, but I would much rather support hardworking, honest, creative people!

Keep on spreading the word folks :)

Tongue in Cheek said...

Let's do something.
And while at it talk about
Bloggers who use other blogger's photos without giving them a link or credit. Or Worse credit the photo to another blogger who has used the copied photo and than takes credit as if it is theirs.
Thief comes with many disguises.
Excellent post. Awareness is needed!

Erin Lang Norris said...

Thanks for sharing this, Renee. I knew that A/UO stole a lot of ideas, but I didn't know that it was THIS blatant. So sad. :(

And the hard part with contacting these companies, especially via email, is that your email is read by a customer service rep who just sits there and plugs templates all day. Rarely does your complaint go anywhere or get recorded anywhere. If a person really, really wants to get through, they must hand-write a letter to the president, which even then doesn't typically land on their desk, but there are much fewer hard copy letters than emails, so your complaint will get noted quicker if there is a steady flow of similar ones. Most major corporations also have a comment log, so you can call into their customer service dept and ask to have your words noted. Be nice and they will note them. :) These notes are later reviewed and after seeing hundreds of tallies by the 'will not shop with you anymore until stealing is stopped' they may finally come around.

Just an FYI to those who want to contact these companies. :) don't waste your time with an email...make a phone call or write a letter to be sent through the mail.

dls said...

Thanks for bringing this to light.... I appreciate this information.

I would hate anything like this happening to my creations.

Anna Maria said...

Isn't it against the law???

Anne Marie said...

Amazing (not in a good sense)... I am out of words...

The really sad thing is that in time we will not know who we can trust. Who has actually the original idea, and who would it would be best to buy from...

What is going on now reaffirms me on the decision I made years ago to not sell what I make.

Anonymous said...

Technically you cannot copyright a design if it is altered just a bit, or really at all. I have personally taken some designs I like and altered them a little and made them my own but I gradually move away from them and sell them at craft shows instead. Artists have been doing this for years. There is one ceramic artist mentioned that I saw copied from another artist in England, so it usually comes full-circle I suppose.

kate said...

Thanks for getting the word out there. I went to C&F's website, filled out a 'contact us' form and basically said Shame on you, hope karma bites you in the ass. Everyone else concerned should contact them as well. What a disgusting company. I hope Anthropologie cuts off all ties with them!

Anonymous said...

To carry on my post from above.. sea urchins in porcelain.
http://www.clairepalastanga.com/forms.htm
and her's were the first.

Fiona Cartolina said...

I feel like commenting again after having a very heated conversation with some friends and colleagues. Doing business in China is destroying our world. It is destroying the economy, the environment, the very world we live in. When will manufacturers clue in to the contribution they are making to the mess we are in. Take action. Don't buy Chinese made products. Demand that your local retailers care where products are produced. Take a stand.

flowerpress said...

Wonderful to see the handmade community keeping vigilant about such dreadful stealing, I hope that with our combined strength we can help support the artists affected.
I just can't believe those examples, I'm really astounded at how close the copies are, they haven't even tried to change anything.
I'll be spreading the message.

F L L said...

I just sent an email to Cody & Foster & urge you to do the same. My letter is copied below sent to:
info@codyfosterandco.com

To Whom It May Concern,

Shame on you Cody Foster for blatantly ripping off independent artists & their product design. I think you should change your about section from what it reads, to something a little more accurate about your source material. I don't think the following statement is very honest:

"When designing, I draw inspiration from many sources but especially from offbeat vintage pieces and unconventional antiques. Almost all our items are handmade, using honest materials and finishes."

You products will never be be additions to my home or collectibles passed down within my family.

Regards,
Faythe Levine

Recently informed & educated consumer about your real business practices

Krystal said...

I guess I have a question - Is there proof besides just the pictures that these artists were stolen from? Is it timing that also tells the artist that she has been ripped off? I guess I feel like some of these are similar...but the "originals" are not all that original either - as in - a pinecone ornament ... that has been around for a long time. I'm seriously not trying to offend or step on toes. I'm just trying to gain understanding of the situation as I am new to it. Please don't hate my question!

Anonymous said...

A person stated above:

"Technically you cannot copyright a design if it is altered just a bit, or really at all."

This an inaccurate and uninformed statement that does not help artists, designers and illustrators understand their legal rights. Their are many popular myths that pop up again and again, and this is one of them.

I sincerely hope artists and designers in discussing these issues online will educate themselves as best as they can about what constitutes copyright infringement, and what they can (and can't) do to protect their work.

By doing so, they will, by extension, also help protect the work of other independent artists who feel they are powerless against such actions.

jan said...

Here here Faythe! I think that's an excellent idea.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to also respectfully address this above comment:

"While this is certainly annoying, what difference does it make? - if it's not this company, it's another etsy seller... and there's nothing you can do about it."

No self-employed designer or artist who is proud of, and believes in their work, would make this statement. Unless they've simply given up on trying -and understanding how often companies make a practice of doing this, I could understand their sense of discouragement and resignation. That makes me enormously sad.

If it's not this company, then it's someone else? Only if we, as a community, take a lazy, complicit attitude. Then they'll know they can do it again, so long as we let them.

Nothing can be done about it? Many, many things can be done about it. Possible legal action by the designers, consumer awareness, the voice of the indie craft community...public opinion is a huge tool. If we don't like this, then we have to let them know.

What difference does it make? It makes a huge difference in the lives of those of us who work for years to make a living from (or simply realize) our original, creative work. Who make huge sacrifices, take risks, dream big and go for it. It is incredibly, incredibly hard work that we do. Which is why most simply steal. When another, more resourceful company takes the creative work of designers without permission or compensation, it diminishes the value of our work, it damages us financially, it kills our souls and worse: it gives the public something that is less than genuine.

Wolfie and the Sneak said...

Please please please continue to contact retailers that carry plagiarized wares and urge them not to support companies with foul business practices. Also read the follow up posts:
a few things anyone can do and
a general response

Kelly Lynn Jones said...

this is insane, thanks for posting renee

Anonymous said...

wonderful post. how blatant are those rip-offs. the problem is that most small designers don't have the ability to hire lawyers to deal with such issues. it would be great if bloggers could find free resources for artists... lawyers who provide pro-bono services to independent artists (if this exists?)

as someone who has had my work ripped off by another seller on etsy, (the actually copied an image from my shop and put it on their product) i understand the frustration. i sent documentation to etsy of the offense and my response was to just follow up with an attorney... they did not address the offender at all. as a result i stopped selling on etsy for nearly a year. i finally just started listing items again. what a shame that etsy has somewhat cornered the market for online shops for independent sellers to the point that if you want to make $$ you have to suck it up when they don't support their own sellers.

actually i am not surprised to hear about Anthro. i was actually approached by them years ago to purchase some of my goods wholesale. they wanted to purchase a $16.00 item for much less than the standard 50% wholesale. instead of spending $8.00 they claimed they could only spend $5.00. what i explained to the buyer was that it costs me $5.00 to produce the item. the response was that i should be grateful to have my goods in Anthro stores and if i wasn't willing to give them the price they wanted, then no sale. i know that similar products do not wholesale for the $5.00 they wanted as i participate in trade shows and wholesale to other stores across the country. i really feel like they try to take advantage of small companies that get starstruck at the idea of being approached by a big retailer. i know i was for a second, trying to figure out anyway to make the deal work. in the end i realized that if i gave away my goods to them, they would always want the same deal plus how would i explain this to my other buyers. in the end i chose my integrity over the sale.

get stuff done said...

salutary lessons indeed. and all they really had to do was to give credit and cash where due surely? or at least ask. I wonder if there is a guild that could represent the independent crafts person? with illustration there is -well in the UK there is. I am quite horrified. though not surprised, sadly.

Anonymous said...

If you are being copied,get a lawyer and scare them. They will buckle easier than you think. I was copied by Anthropologie and I am not a big designer or have lots of money for lawyers but I got my lawyer to look into my right and sent a letter and they complied. Don't be greedy but be sensible and don't be too easy either. They will pay designers when it's cheaper than stealing from them.

Who is Marion? said...

I was proceeding to the Checkout of my Anthropologie order when I ran into this post. Reading through both the entry and the comments, I removed the item I was ordering and closed the Anthropologie tab I was planning on coming back to.

This is just sickening. I'll be doing my part in spreading awareness of this. Better late than never.

B. said...

As sad as it is for someone's designs to be "knocked-off", we all need to realize this happens everywhere. Ever walked into a Forever 21 and seen something that looks identical to something you saw at Anthropologie? Everyone is knocking off everyone. It's kinda ridiculous to be so niave to think that only Urban Inc is doing this. I went to school for fashion design, and there is a computer tool that you can use, so that you can copy a garment exactly and reproduce it. I've heard of fashion company's buying clothing from cheap retailers, cutting out the tags and putting in their own and then showing those "sample" pieces to buyers at high end retailers. It's a disgrace, but it is happening everywhere, and don't think almost everything you've bought is not a "knock-off" of someone elses design.