A group of artists and designers has brought a copyright infringement suit against Francesca’s, a retailer of women’s clothing and accessories, and two vendors who do business with them. In a complaint filed Friday in the US District Court, Southern District of New York, the plaintiffs allege that the companies have been selling enamel pins that duplicate their designs.
Eleven artists have joined the suit, in which copyright infringement penalties and damages could total as much as $4 million. The complaint is available at pinfringement.com.
“Rather than work directly with the independent artists creating these highly sought-after pins, retailers are instead scheming with importer/distributors to create and sell shoddy copies,” said the artists’ lawyer, Andrew Gerber of New York firm Kushnirsky Gerber. “They even order sample pins from these artists and use those samples to create thousands and thousands of unlawful copies. The original artists get entirely cut out of the process, all so these companies can increase their profits. And now we are fighting back for these artists. This lawsuit is just the beginning.”
W Magazine, Gerber points out in the suit, has described the craze for enamel pins as having reached “Kim Kardashian levels.” Francesca’s has upward of 600 retail locations, with more than $430 million in revenue in 2015.
At least one employee of Francesca’s knew the company had done wrong, the suit says:
When Plaintiff Artists first discovered Defendants’ unlawful scheme, several of them contacted Francesca’s to notify them of the infringement. An employee in Francesca’s marketing department responded by email that Francesca’s “respect[s] the designs of all artists” and that Francesca’s was “contacting the vendor that sold us [the Infringing Products] to investigate and address this issue.” Minutes after sending this email, the same Francesca’s employee unsuccessfully attempted to “recall” the email.
The enamel pins allegedly infringed include designs showing a pickle inscribed with the punning phrase “dill with it,” an inquisitive Boston Terrier, and a slice of pizza emblazoned with the message “true love.”
The artists are Sean Aaberg, Kristina Alderette, Brianna Bulski, Susan Ghahremani, Anita Ivancenko, Thais Marchese, Eleanor Mortimer, Eric Solomon, Caitlin Whittington, Beth Wilson, and Katharine Wilson.
Gerber also represented artist Lili Chin in a copyright infringement complaint against the retailer Kohl’s that has since been settled out of court. In March 2016, he appeared on a SXSW panel discussion, “Fuck You, Sue Me: Artist Rights, Corporate Theft.”
Also named in the suit are the companies O.K. Originals and Orion Fashions, which sold the pins in question to Francesca’s, and which, according to the complaint, are notorious copyright infringers who created fake accounts to purchase the artists’ designs for the purpose of copying them.
Neither Francesca’s nor O.K. Originals immediately responded to a request for comment. A website for Orion Fashions is currently “under construction.”
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