10 of the Most Noteworthy Cases of Copying of 2016

Coco Chanel is famous for a number of things; one of them is her famed quote, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” While the legendary designer’s underlying sentiment is accurate in theory, in practice it is not quite as simple, and with the rise of fast fashion retailers, copying appears to be at an all-time high. Since a large amount of copying is completely legal in the U.S. (due to the way American intellectual property laws are framed), we do not see too many lawsuits when such copies are offered for sale. However, designers and fashion websites, alike, are not shy to call “Copy!” when the replication is egregious enough. Here are some of the most controversial instances of copying that occurred in 2016 …

1. Tuesday Bassen and co. v. Zara

Zara was the subject of intense scrutiny this year after indie artist, Tuesday Bassen, took to social media to call out the Spanish fast fashion giant and shed light on its unauthorized use of her copyright-protected work, including an array of original pins that Zara has allegedly copied and affixed to a number of styles of garments.

A dozen or so other indie artists have since spoken out about being targeted by the fast fashion giant. Zara’s response: Bassen's work is "too simple" to protect and that it is unattributable to her.

2. David Rudnick v. Eike König/Hort Berlin

David Rudnick (top) & Hort Berlin/Nike (bottom)

David Rudnick (top) & Hort Berlin/Nike (bottom)

While David Rudnick’s name may not ring a bell to fashion industry individuals, this graphic designer has been making inroads into the fashion industry, collaborating most recently with Alexander Wang for the bold graphics that adorned his Fall/Winter 2016 wares. Rudnick also made waves this year when Hort Berlin, a graphic design studio based in Berlin, Germany, and its founder, Eike König, jacked one of Rudnick’s fonts for a project for Nike’s Lunar Charge campaign. 

More than a mere instance of knocking-off, because original fonts may be subject to copyright protection, Rudnick likely has a merited legal claim here. König confirmed – after being called out by an array of individuals for copying on Instagram – that he has, in fact, reached out to Rudnick. So, stay tuned.

3. Snapchat v. Instagram + Indie Artists v. Snapchat

Snapchat was on both sides of the equation this year. After being called out by an array of artists for allegedly stealing their work and turning it into an array of filters without crediting them, or getting permission to use their designs, Snapchat was the subject to alleged copying.

This summer Facebook Inc.’s Instagram app introduced a new feature that lets people share photos and videos that disappear, the defining feature of Snapchat. Users can write over the photos and add annotations – just like in Snapchat. The product lets people post photos or videos taken throughout their day in a slideshow form, just like Snapchat Stories. They vanish in 24 hours – just like Snapchat Stories. To make it totally clear, Instagram is calling its product Stories too.

As for how – exactly – Instagram’s seeming copy is legal, check out a full analysis here.

4. Vlada Haggerty v. Kylie Jenner

Vlada Taggerty (left) & Kylie Cosmetics (right)

Vlada Taggerty (left) & Kylie Cosmetics (right)

Reality television star and budding cosmetics mogul Kylie Jenner came under fire recently for allegedly copying the work of Los Angeles-based makeup artist, Vlada Haggerty. The copying centers on imagery used in connection with Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics collection, according to Haggerty.

While Haggerty’s counsel confirmed in November that they would initiate litigation against Jenner, no such lawsuit has been filed.

This instance is just the latest in the famous family’s string of legal woes that stem from copying allegations.

5. Balenciaga v. Thailand

Balenciaga (left) & the traditional Thai version (right)

Balenciaga (left) & the traditional Thai version (right)

While the fashion industry was busy praising Demna Gvasalia for his debut Balenciaga collection in March and/or condemning him for his white-washed casting, Thai citizens have been having a field day with one of the accessories that hit the runway for Fall/Winter 2016. Following widespread online chatter amongst Thai fashion fans – complete with side-by-side photos and claims of copying – stemming from the visual similarities between Balenciaga’s rainbow colored tote and a traditional Thai shopping bag, the Department of Intellectual Property Thailand has responded, and we can all rest easily.

According to a statement from Nantawan Sakunkarn, who serves as the director general for Thailand’s Commerce Ministry's Intellectual Property Department: "The rainbow bag has been used in Thailand for a long time. It's not illegal to carry it to Europe as it's not a copycat. If one intends to copy, the material, pattern, shape and color must be the same. As well, there's usually a fake trademark which leads others to think it's a brand-name item.”

6. Snoop Dogg v. Vetements and Vetements v. Urban Outfitters and Forever 21

Vetements (left) & Forever 21 (right)

Vetements (left) & Forever 21 (right)

Vetements, which is headed up by current fashion darling, Demna Gvasalia, made headlines earlier this year for its release of a $924 t-shirt bearing the face of rapper Snoop Dogg. The tee at issue is little more than an exact replica of a tour t-shirt from Snoop’s 1993 “Beware of Dogg” tour. The only difference: Vetements’ version comes with a shocking price tag.

Given the widespread popularity of Vetements’ prohibitively expensive tee, Forever 21 began making a version if its own, which was actually quite a bit different from the original.

Judging by the legality of previous Vetements wares, such as the DHL t-shirts, which were the result of an agreement between DHL and the Paris-based brand, the Vetements Snoop tee is also likely perfectly legal. And rather surprisingly, Forever 21’s version is, too. According to the brand, its Snoop tee is the result of an official licensing deal with Death Row Merchandise Inc., the holder of the copyright in the imagery at issue, thereby releasing Forever 21 from potential copyright infringement litigation.

But then Urban Outfitters wanted in and began making its own version – a direct copy of the original tee and Vetements’ version, albeit with a $39 price tag and seemingly missing an official licensing deal with Death Row Merchandise.

7. Yeezy v. Forever 21

Yeezy (left) & Forever 21 (right)

Yeezy (left) & Forever 21 (right)

Fashion blogs have been quick to label any neutral-colored, distressed wares offered by fast fashion retailers as “Yeezy copies,” and while we have tended to disagree with almost every single one of those claims, there is one instance that is undeniable. It comes in the form of Forever 21’s take on the wildly hot-selling ‘Life of Pablo’ merch.  

8. Adidas v. Everyone

clockwise from top left: Saint Laurent, Common Projects, Givenchy, Kobi, and GREATS.

clockwise from top left: Saint Laurent, Common Projects, Givenchy, Kobi, and GREATS.

In an interview earlier this year with Reuters, Arthur Hoeld, head of adidas Originals, told the news site: “The number of high-end fashion brands that are copying our silhouettes right now is unheard of.” It is hardly a secret that the German sportswear giant filed quite a few lawsuits late last year, including ones against Marc Jacobs and Skechers, for copying its wares, and followed up by suits against APL, a significant number of online retailers hawking Yeezy fakes, and yet another suit against Skechers.

What, if any, other brands are copying adidas that have not been subject to litigation from adidas? Well, a few high fashion brands come to mind, namely: Gucci, Isabel Marant, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen.

9. Raf Simons/Oskar Schlemmer v. Cihuah

Raf Simons (left) & Cihuah (right)

Raf Simons (left) & Cihuah (right)

In one of the relatively rare instances in which a designer might have the opportunity to sue in connection with copying, consider Cihuah. The celebrated Mexican brand, which shows during Mexico Fashion Week and has been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Elle and other Mexico-specific publications, took on a classic Raf Simons design (one from Simons’s Fall/Winter 2003 collection) for its Spring/Summer 2015. And by “took on,” we mean blatantly copied.

10. Ivanka Trump, Steve Madden v. Aquazzura

As Italian design house, Aquazzura, continues its rise to fame, its designs are being copied with increasing frequency by some of the biggest companies on the market, including – but certainly not limited to – Steve Madden and Ivanka Trump.

The shoe that is most commonly getting the copycat treatment? Aquazzura’s oft-Instagrammed ‘Wild Thing’ style, which is central to the lawsuits that Aquazzura filed against both Trump and Madden. Both of those cases are still pending in federal court in New York.