A recent graduate of NYC's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) filed suit against book giant Barnes & Nobles and her alma mater (which boasts a roster of famed graduates including Reem Acra, Francisco Costa, Carolina Herrera (pictured below), and Calvin Klein) for allegedly stealing her design and failing to compensate her for it.
Diana Rubio, 33, who graduated from FIT in 2011, filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York court last week, alleging that as part of an Accessory Drawing class she took, the school required students to participate in a design competition in collaboration with Barnes & Noble (their drawings amounted to 30% of their final grades in the class). Rubio claims the terms of the contest were never disclosed to the students, aside from an oral description that as part of that FIT/Barnes & Noble contest collaboration any drawing submitted in Rubio's drawing course "would automatically enter into some form of student contest administered by FIT in concert with BN, wherein BN would ultimately choose the best drawing in its discretion." Rubio did, however, receive a letter from Barnes & Noble after submitting her drawing in class, thanking her "for participating in the Back-To-Campus collaboration between FIT and Barnes & Noble."
The complaint further states: "A couple of months later [in December 2010] FIT unofficially communicated to Diana that her Drawing had won the aforementioned student competition." Several months after that, in a letter dated May 11, 2011, Barnes & Noble officially congratulated Diana and announced to her that her Drawing had been 'selected by Barnes & Noble, Inc., for production', further adding that '[her Drawing] will be sold through out the country in Barnes & Noble stores and on BN.com as a featured part of the 2011 Back-To-Campus Design by Students for Students collection."
In September 2011, Rubio received a letter from FIT, asking her to sign a "rights and consent" form, which called for her to sign over her rights to the drawing to FIT in perpetuity in exchange for no "money or other payment from any source." The agreement also permitted FIT to assign its right to Rubio's drawing to Barnes & Noble, for which "FIT alone would receive 'royalties (and) a percentage of sales.'" In addition, the agreement gave Barnes & Noble the right to use Rubio's name and picture to sell the bag. In exchange, Rubio would receive a "design credit on the hangtag" on the bag.
Long story short, when Rubio refused to sign the "rights and consent" form, Barnes & Noble went ahead with the manufacture of the bag anyway, according to the lawsuit. The $39.95 bag (pictured above) became a hot seller for the brand, and is still sold worldwide, BUT Rubio "has received no payment whatsoever from Barnes & Noble and/or FIT for the Diana Rubio backpacks nor has she authorized the manufacture, marketing and sale of such backpacks."
She is suing both defendants for copyright infringement, violation of her right of privacy (in accordance with New York state Civil Rights Law), Unjust Enrichment, False and Misleading Representation, and other claims, and asking the court to order the defendants to either pay her royalties or prohibit them from making any more of the bags.