The estate of late artist, Vera Neumann, filed suit in SDNY on Tuesday against designer, Kate Spade, via Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (formerly Liz Claiborne). According to the complaint, THE VERA COMPANY LLC, has been the sole and exclusive owner of all rights, title and interest, including but not limited to all copyright rights, in a design entitled “Poppy Field” by Neumann. The complaint alleges that Spade was inspired by Neumann’s designs: “Kate Spade has indicated, at least several years ago, that among the items and products that have inspired her designs are the silk-screened scarves of Vera,” which Spade referred to in her book “Style by Kate Spade.”
So, what are Neumann’s trustees asking for? Primarily, they’re seeking “an amount not as yet known, but believed to be in excess of One Million Dollars plus interest” in damages. This represents “all gains, profits and advantages derived by Spade’s use of the infringement of Neumann’s copyright” (aka the poppy pattern). In addition, they want to be reimbursed by Fifth & Pacific for the cost of hiring an attorney for the case. Lastly, they want Spade to be required to hand over “all copies of the infringing products in her possession or under her control, and turn over all infringing copies and rollers, screens, plates, molds, and other matter for making such infringing copies,” which will be destroyed. They are not joking around!
Of the specific design, the complaint states: “Plaintiff’s design Poppy Field, which was originally created by Vera Neumann and her company back in 1979, has appeared on numerous products through the years, and in numerous publications, including but not limited to appearing on scarves, table cloths, and napkins. In addition, the designs created by Vera Neumann and/or her companies have had enormous circulation, publicity, and respect throughout the world. For example, Vera’s designs have been sold in over 20,000 stores around the world; they can be found in vintage shops; they have been the subject of countless exhibitions through the years, including at such places as the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and they are often found on such sites as E-Bay and Etsy.com.”