On the heels of a large online movement of indie artists and designers calling out fast fashion giants, including Zara, for copying their designs, Francesca’s Collections has been named in a copyright and trade dress infringement lawsuit brought by eleven indie artists. According to the complaint, which was filed earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, a federal court in Manhattan, Francesca’s, as well as O.K. Originals, Ltd., a costume jewelry supplier, and Orion Fashions, Inc., a Manhattan-based fashion jewelry company, are on the hook for distribution and importation of false copyright management information, unfair competition, and violations of federal mail and wire fraud statutes.
The plaintiffs include Sean Aaberg, Kristina Alderette, Brianna Bulski, Susan Ghahremani, Anita Ivancenko, Thais Marchese, Eleanor Mortimer, Eric Solomon, Caitlin Whittington, Beth Wilson, and Katharine Wilson – all independent artists and designers from the U.S. and UK, who claim that Francesca’s has sold enamel pins that are blatant replicas of their own original designs.
The plaintiffs allege that their “original pins feature distinctive, non-functional trade dress consisting of the pins themselves and the visual design and graphical elements of the pins [and that] members of the consuming public have come to recognize these signature elements as belonging to the respective Plaintiff Artists.” The designs at issue include a pin in the shape of a pickle that reads “Dill with it!,” one that depicts a slice of pizza and reads “True-Love,” and others that come in the form of cats’ faces.
According to their complaint, the plaintiffs allege that as copyright holders to their designs, they “routinely license their designs” and additionally sell them on personal websites and marketplaces like Etsy.com. However, “rather than design its own original pins or purchase or license designs directly from artists, Francesca’s chose to steal Plaintiff Artists’ existing designs.” In particular, the complaint alleges that Francesca’s – a Texas-based retail chain with over 600 brick-and-mortar locations throughout the U.S. – “contracted with O.K. Originals and Orion, both notorious distributors of knockoff and copycat goods, to supply Francesca’s with infringing copies of Plaintiff Artists’ pins.”
The complaint further asserts that O.K. Originals and Orion purchased the plaintiffs’ pins using “fake online accounts and personas in order to hide the fact that they were purchasing samples of the [plaintiffs’] original pins to copy,” “intentionally removed copyright management information” [information conveyed with a copyrighted work that identifies the owner and nature of that copyright], and subsequently outsourced to foreign manufacturers to “create unlawful copies of the [plaintiffs’] original pins and other infringing accessories.”
Despite “continued and persistent attempts to contact Francesca’s” and even a social media campaign, the plaintiffs claim that they have been unsuccessful in dissuading the store from selling the infringing pins. Though they do argue that “Francesca’s employees have publicly admitted that the Infringing Products were intentionally copied from the Original Pins.”
As a result, the plaintiffs are seeking an immediate and permanent injunction, which would prohibit Francesca’s from selling pins bearing their copyrighted works, and an array of monetary damages.
According to a statement from the plaintiff artists counsel, Andrew Gerber of Kushnirsky Gerber PLLC, to TFL: “This is just a first step for us in a larger enforcement effort. Pins and patches have risen in popularity lately, and unlawful copying has risen as well. We're fighting back on behalf of independent artists.”
* The case is Sean Aaberg, Kristina Alderette, Brianna Bulski, Susan Ghahremani, Anita Ivancenko, Thais Marchese, Eleanor Mortimer, Eric Solomon, Caitlin Whittington, Beth Wilson, and Katharine Wilson v. Francesca’s Collections, Inc., O.K. Originals, LTD., Orion Fashions, Inc., and Does 1-10, 1:17-cv-00115 (SDNY).