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Zara, River Island and More Are Under Fire for Allegedly Stealing From Indie Artists

UK retailer Bershka is among the brands under fire for allegedly stealing indie artists' designs.

Image: Bershka

It’s a widely accepted fact that fast fashion’s designers — how shall we put this — borrow liberally from the runway. However, injured parties like luxury brand Céline choose to look the other way (we suspect) because their well-to-do customer is not shopping at Zara or the like. That, or lax copyright laws make prosecuting time consuming and ineffective. However, when popular retailers blatantly lift designs from smaller fishes, i.e. indie designers, it triggers our sense of moral outrage.

At least a dozen indie artists have recently come forward with complaints that Zara, River Island, Bershka, Forever 21 and more copied their work without offering attribution or compensation. As mainstream clothing companies scramble to stay on top of the rising DIY movement and fulfill customers’ hunger for craft pins and patches, indie artists are getting trampled in the fray. However, Los Angeles-based illustrator Tuesday Bassen and Montreal-based Stay Home Club founder Olivia Mew aren’t shying away from the fight.

It being 2016, the Davids of the world have a very useful platform on which to stand and take on the Goliaths — social media. On Sunday, Mew took to Instagram to call out River Island after a U.K. fan pointed out the striking similarity between Mew’s work and a patch sold by the high street retailer.

A infographic of indie artists' work and mainstream retailers' copycat products.

Image: Olivia Mew

“I’ve been told by many people that these companies aren’t producing the designs in-house, but rather buying them from small contractors overseas who produce vectorized copies of ‘trendy’ artwork found online and sell them for cheap,” Mew told Fashionista. “The issue for me is that big companies like Zara, River Island, etc. can’t be bothered to do [their] due diligence and Google something before mass producing it.” However, River Island won’t face legal repercussions for their actions, at least from Mew, who’s deterred by the cost.

 

I’ve been pretty quiet about this, until now. Over the past year, @zara has been copying my artwork (thanks to all that have tipped me off–it’s been a lot of you). I had my lawyer contact Zara and they literally said I have no base because I’m an indie artist and they’re a major corporation and that not enough people even know about me for it to matter. I plan to further press charges, but even to have a lawyer get this LETTER has cost me $2k so far. It sucks and it’s super disheartening to have to spend basically all of my money, just to defend what is legally mine. EDIT: Some of you are asking how you can help. Repost and tag them, on Twitter, on Insta, on Facebook. I don’t want to have to burden any of you with the financial strain that comes with lawsuits.

A photo posted by Tuesday Bassen (@tuesdaybassen) on

Tuesday Bassen, however, is determined to hold Zara accountable for appropriating her designs. Over the past year, Bassen’s seen her work co-opted by the global retailer time and time again. On July 19, the artist aired grievances with the brand via Twitter, sharing a particularly cold letter she received in response to a cease-and-desist letter sent to Zara by her legal counsel.

“They responded with images of generic heart lolly photographs saying that my work was too simple and also that basically no one would know it was me, because Zara gets 98,000,000 visitors and I’m an independent artist,” Bassen told The Fashion Law. Bassen plans to copyright her work going forward and press charges against Zara, both costly endeavors.

Adam Kurtz, another designer allegedly wronged by Zara, made a page called “Stop the Stolen Art” comparing his and other indie artists’ work to the Inditex-owned brand’s products.

 

You might have heard that @zara has been ripping off the work of many artists lately. Sad to say that they have copied our designs, too. (Even worse is that adding the heart is actually a pretty good idea…) Unfortunately, this is not the first time our work has been stolen, nor will it be the last. There’s also not much that independent artists can do to fight international, multi-billion-dollar corporations. This is why we want to send a super huge THANK YOU to all of you. Every time you buy something from our webshop or one of the amazing retailers who carry our line, you are directly supporting our art and giving us the ability to keep making fun Things™ for you. Props to @tuesdaybassen and all of the other people who are calling @zara out on this ridiculously blatant theft and infinite thanks to all of you for being amazing friends and fans of our Things™. xoxo, @jenadrion and @omarnoory aka @thesearethings

A photo posted by T H E S E A R E T H I N G S ® (@thesearethings) on

Ohio-based brand These Are Things, included in Kurtz’s roundup, took to Instagram on Wednesday to voice their upset:  “You might have heard that Zara has been ripping off the work of many artists lately. Sad to say that they have copied our designs, too,” read the post. “Unfortunately, this is not the first time our work has been stolen, nor will it be the last. There’s also not much that independent artists can do to fight international, multi-billion-dollar corporations.”

While some lawyers argue that certain shapes and phrases fall under public domain, given the specific combination of shapes, colors and phrases used by these independent designers and the sheer number of allegations, it seems as though Bassen and her cohort could make a compelling case.

Yesterday, reps for Inditex had this to say to Fortune: “Inditex has the utmost respect for the individual creativity of all artists and designers and takes all claims concerning third party intellectual property rights very seriously. Inditex was recently contacted by Tuesday Bassen’s lawyers who noted the use of illustrations in some badges sourced externally and on clothes in its Group stores. The Company immediately opened an investigation into the matter and suspended the relevant items from sale. Inditex’s legal team is also in contact with Tuesday Bassen’s lawyers to clarify and resolve the situation as swiftly as possible.” You’ll notice the tone of this statement is far more apologetic than the aforementioned letter sent to Bassen. Perhaps they’ve learned their lesson, perhaps they smell a class action. Meanwhile, River Island remains silent.

Clearly, we’re behind the little guys on this one. We’ll keep you updated with further developments.

[ via Glossy ]